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Playtime & Toys

5 Ways to Make a Toddler Laugh

Rhyming, dancing, talking pets and more ways to get your kids' giggle on

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Toddlers are tricky characters. They're emotional and demanding, loving and cuddly, and hopelessly devoted to us parents. That said, they can lose it at the most inopportune times (at the grocery store, getting on a plane) and for the most unexpected reasons (mismatched socks, food that's cut into pieces). As a mom to three kiddos under the age of four, I know a thing or two about tantrums. But I also have a few tricks that are guaranteed to make those tiny tots dissolve into fits of laughter just when it feels like the going is about to get tough. Here's my fool-proof list of laughables.

Rhyme Time See you later, alligator. Give me a hug, ladybug. Get out that door, dinosaur! These rhymes-and endless others I create on the fly-never cease to make my kiddos break into giggles. They love hearing me play with words they know and understand, and they also love repeating what I say and how I say it, which ranges from a booming monster tone to a sing-song falsetto voice depending on my mood (and their behavior).

Put Your Silly Pants On Prior to becoming a mom I sat at a desk, read emails all day, and went to meetings. But it wasn't until I had my own kids that I truly grasped the depths of my own silliness. For example, diaper hat-yes, wearing a diaper on my head as a hat-is a surefire way to make my kids burst out laughing.

Another favorite? Pretending their foot is a phone, dialing a number into their sole and talking into their heel. "Hello, Santa? This is Mama. Rosie wants underpants for Christmas. Bye-bye." Cue: Howls of laughter. Another sure bet: Making your pet talk. My 3-year-old daughter is sharp as a tack, yet when I make our dog talk to her-"What's the matter, Rosie? You wanna snuggle me?"-she wholeheartedly believes the dog is speaking, and always bursts out laughing. My husband takes the silly factor to another level that I can't even bring myself to, when he does his best chicken dance. It turns out that simultaneously clapping, scissoring your legs and yelling "cocka-doodle-doo" is a foolproof way to get kids of all ages to laugh hysterically when you're taking a photo. Is your toddler about to blow his top over wearing a raincoat? Pretend you're a gorilla and scoop him up while running around your house. That should do the trick.

Peek-a-Boo 2.0 I've spent dozens of hours of my life playing peek-a-boo with babies. It's darling time well spent, but man it gets old quick. I loved when my babies became toddlers, because it meant we could actually interact more, communicate with each other-and oh right, because it meant they're old enough for me scare the bejesus out of them. One of my favorite tactics during playtime is to run down a hall, toddlers in tow chasing me, and then visibly "hide" behind a corner. My kids turn into electrified maniacs when they know they are about to be startled and they can barely stand the anticipation of my loud, dramatic "BOO!" when it comes. They also love scaring me in return, which I react to with an over-the-top, falling-down, fainting-type of response that they eat up.

Dance Party Nothing kills time in my house quite like a good dance party-all of my babies like to get down. But what they especially like is to see my moves. And to be honest, prior to having kids, most of my dancing was done in bars after several beers. So to be putting my best moves on display at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday in my kitchen-well, there is a learning curve. But every time I side-step or do the Running Man, my efforts are met with fits of giggles from my tiny audience. Then my girl and boys will ballroom dance, which inevitably leads to falling down, and even more laughs.

Wrestle-Fest I usually reserve wrestling for that endless sea of time between dinner and bath, when, if left to their own devices, my kids will fight nonstop over toys. The key to successful wrestle time (read: no tears) is carpet and pillows in an open space away from hard furniture. Once you've got that down, it's time to tackle your toddlers, blow raspberries on their bellies, tickle their feet and pepper them with kisses under their chins. Laughter will ensue from the get-go, and I often find myself howling, especially at the sight of my two-year-old son flying in the air to tackle me.