Joking and pretending with toddlers help them develop life skills such as "learning to think outside of the box," British researchers found.
Dr. Elena Hoicka of the University of Stirling and colleagues examined how the two very similar concepts of joking and pretending -- both involve intentionally doing or saying the wrong thing -- develop in children ages 15-24 months.
"Joking is about doing something wrong just for the sake of it. In contrast, pretending is about doing something wrong which is imagined to be right," Hoicka said in a statement. "For example, parents might use a sponge like a duck while pretending but use a cat as a duck when joking."
The study found parents rely on a range of language styles, sound and non-verbal cues such as when they talk slowly and loudly and repeat their actions.
Conversely, parents tend to cue their children to jokes by showing their disbelief through language, and using a more excited tone of voice.
"We found that most parents employ these different cues quite naturally to help their toddlers understand and differentiate these concepts," Hoicka said in a statement.
"While not all parents feel confident in their natural abilities, the research does show that making the effort to interact in this way with toddlers is important," Hoicka said in a statement. "Knowing how to joke is great for making friends, dealing with stress, thinking creatively and learning to think outside the box."