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Now, That's Funny!

"Hey, Mom," my 7-year-old, Evan, said to me recently. "Knock, knock."

I took a deep breath (for Evan is king of the nonsensical punch line) and said, "Who's there?"

"Norma Lee," he replied.

"Norma Lee who?"

"Norma Lee, I ring the doorbell!"

Whoa. Could it be? Could my kid finally have mastered the art of telling a joke?

Okay, compared with other milestones that we celebrate in a child's life  -- walking, talking, using the potty  -- joke telling might not seem monumental. But what your child finds funny  -- what he gets  -- is a barometer of his development, and how he expresses it changes as he grows. Humor gives you insight into how his mind is developing, and a window into his unique personality. Besides, being along for the ride (from giggles to riddles) is a good laugh. Here, a guide to your child's ever-changing sense of humor:

Babies: The funny instinct

True, babies can't tell jokes. But they can certainly laugh.

The seeds of humor are there from the get-go. While a lot of humor is picked up over time, thanks to family and friends (and probably TV, too), there's an innate element to it. Even babies are capable of finding something funny  -- and usually it's something a little unexpected that inspires those first laughs.

By 3 or 4 months, your baby's become increasingly aware of what's around her. New and exciting actions  -- being twirled, lifted high (gently, of course!)  -- are what'll get her giggling. She's starting to have fun.

Sounds and colors make infants laugh, too. One of my favorite and earliest memories of my son's blossoming sense of humor is hearing his deep belly laugh after I wound up the musical mobile that hung over his crib.

By around 6 months, your baby will start to laugh at you (in a good way), says Charles Flatter, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Child Study at the University of Maryland, College Park. By now, she knows what to expect from you  -- smiles, coos, diaper changes  -- and any lighthearted deviation is likely to spark a giggle. That's why funny faces, kitty noises, and silly words are winners.

Madeline Pabst of Tucson, Arizona, cracks up when her mom, Katie, pretends to sneeze. "And few things make her laugh as hard as when her dad pretends to eat her hand," she says. Not high humor  -- that is, unless you're a baby.

Funny-bone builder
Mix it up. Give your baby a raspberry on her belly during a humdrum diaper change. Or go wild and put that diaper on your head. (The clean one: Only a preschooler would find the alternative truly hilarious.) Do something simple and different, and do it with a smile, and you'll probably get one back.

Dara Chadwick has written for Woman's Day and Better Homes & Gardens.

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