Funny development: By age three or four, kids understand the social aspect of humor—that a person can be in on a joke. “Laughing is their way of establishing ‘We’re together, right?’” says Karp. Slapstick is a big hit, he says, because it’s “entry-level humor—they laugh and you laugh.”
Their comedy heroes: Cookie Monster, the Three Stooges.
Comedy gold: Sitting on them (gently!) and then asking if anyone has seen them. This way, they’re in on the joke (and under the joke). “Starting with preschool—and going all the way up to certain men—this kind of physical comedy is always appreciated,” says Murphy. The sit-on-the-kid trick also adheres to another rule of funny: “It’s a violation of what’s expected,” says Karp. Mo Willems, the author of such kid thigh-slappers as Knuffle Bunny ($16, amazon.com), recalls, “My daughter Trixie was a fan of a random string of words phrased as a joke: What did the window say to the flowerpot? I’m wearing shoes!”
According to David Rakoff, a humorist and the author of Half Empty ($15, amazon.com), to a little kid there’s nothing more unexpected than seeing a grown-up fake-weeping. “Oh, they love it when you cry,” he says. “I’ve done it a few times, and the kids still talk about it and laugh years later.” And for an easy chuckle-fest, don’t underestimate the power of bathroom humor: The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee, a mother of three and the author of I Know I Am, But What Are You? ($15, amazon.com), suggests simply “replacing key words in your preschooler’s favorite song with the word pee or poo.” Row, row, row your poo, gently down the—see? You know you’re laughing.