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Here's one more trait to teach your kids: be funny
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While some kids are spending the summer coding or canoeing, others are learning how to be funny at comedy camps being held across the nation.

Kids honing their sense of humor could have long-lasting benefits. The ability to make others laugh is a skill that can help people in almost any job they do, from marketing to medicine, and people with a sense of humor are perceived to be more intelligent and creative than the humorless, psychologists say.

But theres a fine line between a joke and an insult, as comedian Roseanne Barr recently learned when her TV show was canceled because of a joke that she later admitted was "thoughtless."

Some comedians say a joke isn't funny unless it offends someone and skirts the line of propriety. Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, however, dismisses that sort of comedy as bullying, and "clean" humorists such as Jim Gaffigan and Ryan Hamilton have shown you don't have to be inflammatory to be funny.

As the childrens author Daniel Handler, also known as Lemony Snicket, once said, "Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.

So how can parents who themselves don't have a funny bone raise children who are both funny and kind? Comedy camps across the nation teach children just that, and professional comics also have some advice. In helping your children develop a sense of humor, you also might find that your family grows closer, some humorists say.

A benign violation

The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that the soul enters the body when a baby laughs for the first time, which typically occurs in the third or fourth month of life. Later, between 8 and 11 months of age, babies turn into comedians themselves, trying to get their parents or siblings to laugh by making faces or funny noises, or even by manufacturing a fake laugh of their own.

"Before they speak or walk or crawl, infants joke," wrote Vasudevi Reddy and Gina Mireault in their 2014 study entitled "Teasing and Clowning in Infancy."

And before babies joke, they laugh.

Laughter relieves stress and strengthens social bonds, and some scientists say that's part of its evolutionary function.

But just because a sense of humor appears innate in humans and some of our mammalian cousins, that doesnt mean all people are equal in their comic potential, said Mireault, a psychology professor at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont. Temperamental differences in babies are evident within 24 hours after birth, with some children naturally sunny and cheerful, others sober and intense, so much so that "you work up a sweat getting them to smile."

"Some people come to humor easily; and others have to work at it more," Mireault said.

Peter McGraw, a behavioral scientist and professor who directs the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado in Boulder, posits that humor is an outgrowth of "benign violation" a non-threatening reversal of norms. This explains why a baby laughs at a parent who puts a cup on her head, and why adults laugh if theyre being playfully tickled by someone they trust.

As children grow older and use language, not just their bodies, to amuse others, parents can help their kids balance the playfulness and fun of humor with its potential for harm, said McGraw, who along with Joel Warner, wrote the 2014 book "The Humor Code," which explores what people find funny around the world, and why.

While comedy is widely seen as a pleasure, "humor has a potential dark side; it can clearly be doubled-edged, and its easier to fail than to succeed. When you do fail, you can bore people with your joke think knock-knock jokes or you can offend people with your joke. Even a well-intentioned joke can offend an audience who just happens to see the world differently," McGraw said.

The first thing a child needs to learn about humor, then, is that the audience gets to decide whats funny, not the joke teller, he said.

"The worlds best comedians are hyper-attentive to the reaction of their audience. They record their comedy sets and listen to the laughter. They are constantly tweaking their jokes to make the audience laugh. If the worlds funniest people are hyper-focused on what the audience thinks, then those of us who arent quite as funny should also be," McGraw said.

Second, he said, is for a child to know that he should apologize when hes crossed a line and hurt someones feelings. "Theres a tendency to blame the audience, to say, 'oh, you cant take a joke, whats wrong with you?'" Children should know that the problem is with the joke, not the audience."

Thats one reason that parents should encourage their children to be funny within their own homes, and to create an atmosphere where humor is welcome, not something a child experiments with when hes with his friends.

"Comedy is really about breaking rules, about creating violations. Good parents encourage that playfulness, but they are good about setting some boundaries, because thats where learning happens; learning happens on the edges," he said.

How comedy uplifts

Parents teach children to employ humor that uplifts and entertains people rather than belittling them by modeling this kind of humor themselves, McGraw said.

Thats how Adam Ferrara, a New York comedian and actor, learned to be funny: by absorbing the humor of his parents.

"My father and my mother were very funny people, and they had no idea they were," Ferrara said.

Growing up on Long Island with two brothers, Ferrara noticed how his father would slip humor into parenting, like when he would say, "Pay attention, Im running out of energy" or "Its not your job to tell someone hes an idiot; lifes going to tell him soon enough." But the prevailing lesson was "kindness and compassion first."

Ferrara realized as a child that saying something funny to his father could erase the cares of the day. "He would come home from work and he was exhausted, but I could say something and Id see that look on his face go away for a moment; the stress was gone for a moment," Ferrara said.

Likewise, John Heffron, a comedian for 30 years, traced his interest in comedy to elementary school, when he noticed the effect his funny lines had on a teacher. "There were troublemakers that would make this womans life horrible, and then, I would say something (funny) and she would be smiling. I remember making a conscious decision; thats the better way to go; you can make this womans life a little bit easier," Heffron said.

Like Ferrara, Heffron is considered a "clean" comedian, meaning that he doesnt resort to vulgarity or meanness to get a laugh. "I never talk about race, religion or sex; some people say what is there left to talk about?" he said. But Heffron said the line between whats appropriate and what is not is usually pretty obvious. "Some people love to cross it. Theres some internal happiness that happens when they cross it. But I never saw the benefit of crossing over that line; I never saw the reason."

Sean Sweeney, who teaches a humor class called skits and bits for teens and tweens at Utah Childrens Theatre, said children have an innate ability to let loose and dive into a character. They are just fearless, Sweeney said.

As such, he sets guidelines and boundaries at the start of a comedy class, the first being dont go blue which means to not say anything inappropriate, anything more than PG.

If you cant say it in front of your grandma, you cant say it in any of my scenes, Sweeney said.

Creating a culture of laughter

While there are varying degrees of talent, the basic skills of comedy can be taught, Heffron said. McGraw, the professor in Colorado, is a fan of improv, or improvisational acting, which is taught at many summer camps, including one in Salt Lake City at the Utah Children's Theatre. In improv, people work as a team to develop a skit that is made up as they go along and as such, is often uproariously funny.

Mireault, the professor in Vermont, said that research by Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at the University of Maryland, has shown that people in groups laugh often, even if nothing was intentionally said to be funny. "Laughter is less likely to be about something funny than about something social," Mireault said.

Improv has rules, one of which is that people build on a story by saying "Yes, and" instead of negating what the other person just said.

"Now you just supported this person and moved the story forward," McGraw said, adding that improv and its rules can apply to families.

"Were all supporting actors; were all here to make each other look good. What a great set of lessons for families. Its a good way to approach life in general," he said.

Pam Victor, a mother of two who runs a nonprofit called Happier Valley Comedy in western Massachusetts, offers improv classes that both parents and children can take together. Victor said her goal isnt to teach people how to be funny, but to find their "authentic voices."

"Oftentimes, if we are behaving authentically, there will be laughter, because people laugh when they relate to something," Victor said. "Thats where the comedy lies. Thats the side effect."

Victor's group promotes "laughter, joy and ease," which is found by silencing our inner critics, Victor says. Our outer critics may have to go, too. "Worry and anxiety kill laughter," Provine writes in his book "Laughter: A Scientific Investigation."

In that book, Provine offers 10 tips for increasing laughter in your family's life. Among them: stock a shelf or two with humorous materials, such as a shelf filled humorous books, photograph and movies; socialize regularly since "laughter is often more of a consequence of relationships than of jokes"; reduce inhibitions with playful group activities such as a volleyball game; and, for people who enjoy it, tickle family members affectionately, although Provine warns, "Like a powerful drug, tickle should come with a warning label and be used with care."

In Colorado, McGraw notes that, just like developing any other skill, you and your children can become funnier with practice.

"The funniest people in the world are 38-year-olds whove spent 10-20 years getting good at this. Theyre not 18-year-olds selling out arenas. Like any complex skill, creating comedy takes some natural ability coupled with a lot of deliberate practice," he said.

"There is the risk of being seen as a rebel, as different, but the point is, boy, we like funny people. Theyre great to have around."