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My wife and I have an almost 2-year-old daughter, whom since the age of about 6 months, cries when we laugh.

For the first approximately 6-9 months, this was pretty much every time we laughed. Since then it's usually only when she's sensitive (i.e. overtired, hungry, etc.).

The scenario is usually:

  • all sitting at a dining table
  • wife and I discussing something
  • one of us laughs or starts chuckling (we aren't loud!)
  • daughter looks at the person that started laughing
  • her face goes bright red, mouth open, expression of "horrified", starts crying
  • when she's able to speak, says things like "mummy/daddy not laugh" but can't tell us much else about what's happening for her

From about 14 months she's developed a lot of language, and seems to understand intellectually when we explain "laughing makes me happy", "it's OK to laugh", etc. with vigorous head nods. This can also help to calm her down. However another laugh causes the emotions to override all logic.

It feels to us like she thinks we are laughing at her, but who knows. It rarely happens when other people laugh. She can laugh and that's OK but sometimes when we laugh back she gets upset again.

Apart from this behaviour, she seems to behave like a "normal" child of her age. We have seen her develop phobias when something has really scared her but so far they've never lasted longer than a few months. Maybe repeated laughing is repeated exposure so she can't get over it?

As this has been going on for so long (not to say we'd like to be able to freely laugh in our own home!), we're not sure if there is something more serious going on that we should pay attention to. Or if there's something more we can do to help her.

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    I'd be concerned that perhaps loud or sudden noises are the real issue and would consider having her hearing checked. – NotMe Sep 3 '14 at 22:48
  • It could be that she thinks that there was some kind of a joke at her expense and you're laughing at her. – Worse_Username Oct 12 '17 at 15:36
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    I'm wondering if you were ever able to get your questions answered about your daughter? I came to search the same thing about our 16 month old daughter who's been sensitive to us laughing for the last couple months. Your entire explanation explains our situation almost exactly. Hoping you had some answers or insights now that it's been a few years for you guys! – Beccap Apr 13 '18 at 16:51
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    Thank you for the reminder! Follow up is that this stopped soon after she turned 2. We've never taken her anywhere for a professional assessment. However now that she has a younger sibling, I can see that in comparison she usually has stronger and/or longer lasting reactions to her senses and emotions. But this is something we help her with and she is completely fine. :) – Alex Angas Apr 24 '18 at 8:51
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You say your daughter seems to behave like a normal child of her age (and of course this is comforting), however, this reaction to your laughing isn't entirely normal; then again, a lot of parents are not quite so sensitive to their child, so the fact that you're asking about this is really commendable, and may say something about your (very appropriate) sensitivity as well.

Short term phobias are normal in little ones of ~8 months on, so that's not a major concern; on the other hand, these phobias usually last weeks, not months.

I'm wondering if your daughter might be a "highly sensitive child" or an "anxious child". You might want to read about these conditions on reputable sites, and see if some of her unnoticed behaviors click with what you're reading.

You have a two-year doctor visit coming up soon. Please bring this up on that visit, and make sure your doctor takes your concern seriously (they should, but some are more cavalier than others.) She can be screened for these conditions, and, if present, early intervention helps both parents and children.

For now, since this reaction is so pronounced (her face goes bright red, mouth open, expression of "horrified", starts crying - pretty pronounced reaction, indicative of a sympathetic nervous system response), although it seems like an overreaction, I would try to avoid laughing in her presence, especially when she's stressed*, cultivating a more "quiet appreciation" of humor in deference to your daughter's strong response to your laughter. Smile generously, especially at her (though I can hardly believe anyone can get by without soft chuckling). Respecting your daughter's anxiety in this situation is not the same as coddling her. Even (maybe especially) at this age, respecting and accepting her feelings is a positive, formative experience for her.

Many sensitive children often do cry when their parents laugh at things they do, but clearly this is not the only setting for her dismay.

*Stress may exacerbate a negative reaction that she may be able to handle better when well-rested, etc. But your laughter may be a stressful situation for her even when she's not tired, etc..

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    Your suggestions of web research led me to Sensitive Toddler which seems fairly accurate. I don't believe she is anxious but she does have a very active mind. While it's probably not too bad, we will revisit our language to her around this. Thank you, your answer has really helped us and her! – Alex Angas Sep 7 '14 at 23:46
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    A good book on this is The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron – Bronco Oct 10 '17 at 21:56
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You may want to look up misophonia. This is where certain specific sounds trigger a "fight or flight" response and is completely involuntary. Could it also be possible that your laugh is particularly loud? Try work out how your laugh differs to those whose laughter doesn't bother your daughter (is it deeper, higher, etc). Hope this helps!

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My daughter does this too! It's been going on since she was an infant and she is now 2.5. It's worse when she is tired/stressed/overwhelmed. She is just a very emotionally intelligent and sensitive child. She even says, "Mama, not laugh!" I tell her, "I know you don't like when Mama laughs. But Mama laughs when something is funny. It's OK to laugh." Like you, we don't laugh loudly. She's just very sensitive. Sometimes even just a little chuckle will set it off. And like you, I sometimes wonder if she thinks we are laughing AT her, so we reassure her we're not. I'm hoping she grows out of this, but she might not. She's very sensitive, and that's OK:)

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    Welcome to Parenting.SE. Can you please add any information on how you have tried to help your daughter adjust? As it stands this doesn't directly answer the poster's question. Please read the tour also to learn more about how this site works. – SomeShinyMonica Apr 24 '18 at 1:36

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