It is so often under unhappy and troubled circumstances that we meet the children and youth we work with. As a result, we can be hesitant to introduce levity and humour into our shared lives. Rather like laughing at a funeral, we fear.
Yet it is a cliché that the highest qualification for child and youth care work is a sense of humour. But too often we regard this as an ironic quality of care workers – in the sense that it is we who might be able to tolerate the tough times if we have this sense of humour. We can lose sight of our duty to cultivate laughter and humour in the kids.
Humour is at the heart of the emotional immune system. It is a necessary part of human completeness that we have the capacity to laugh and have fun. For children to leave us without it would be as bad as their going out into the world without love or music or a sense of beauty.
The laughter of troubled children is often destructive (at the expense of others) or strained (as part of sensation-seeking). These are brittle, usually ugly, kinds of laughter. Such children find it as hard to experience and express feelings of fear and anger as of fun and humour – as if these are all feelings against which we must defend ourselves.
One of our fundamental tasks as child and youth care workers is to help young people to be comfortable with their feelings: to allow and identify their feelings and to express them appropriately with spontaneity, fulfilment and effectiveness. We often say "It’s OK to cry" or "It’s understandable that you feel angry" as part of putting kids in charge of their own sorrow and rage. It is equally necessary that we show them that "It’s OK to laugh". These are all part of the curriculum of life which we are teaching them while we work with them at the problems or issues which trouble them and their families.
Today in our practice we are careful not to be too solemn in the face of the kids’ difficulties or "difficultness". We are careful not to take ourselves too seriously, or allow our "sense of humour" to become sarcasm or derision (literally "laughing to bring down"). We will look for the fun and laughter we can create, find, communicate and share together with the young people in our lives.