Laughing Baby Video

March 8, 2011 · 12 comments

in Our "View" of Babies, Relationship

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave in Siberia, you’ve probably seen the video of an eight month old baby boy named Micah, who is laughing hysterically as his Dad repeatedly rips a job rejection letter into shreds. The video went viral after being tweeted by a pregnant Alyssa Milano with the tag line, “If this doesn’t make you smile, check your pulse.” The beautiful baby and his proud parents were even featured on the Today Show.  To date, the video has been viewed over 5.5 million times.

Many friends and family members have sent me the video, sure that I would love it, “because you love babies so much.” There’s no doubt that Micah’s laugh is delightful, but instead of loving the video, I feel uncomfortable every time I watch it. Why don’t I view this video as a lovely interaction between a baby and his Dad? To help me answer that question for you, I’m going to ask you to go back and watch the video again- but this time, turn the volume off first, and just watch the baby. Watch Micah’s eyes. Watch and see if you can tell what he’s interested in. Watch and see if, with no sound, you come away with the impression that the baby is being slightly manipulated, interrupted, or frustrated in his exploration and play.


This is what I see when I watch the video, and while it’s not awful, it’s illustrative of the way many adults interact with, and play with babies. It’s very common to see babies being entertained, or to see adults trying to elicit a response from a baby- usually a laugh. And when a baby laughs, we feel good, and think the baby must be happy too. In fact, if you google “laughing baby” literally hundreds of videos will pop up- many of them showing babies (s)trapped in some kind of chair, while an adult, who often remains out of sight, tears paper, or makes some kind of novel noise, eliciting peals of (sometimes hysterical) laughter from the baby.

In one of the videos, the baby’s laughter bordered on tears, as he strained with his entire body to reach for the paper, which his Mom held just out of his reach. Finally, after about three minutes, the Mom leaned in to kiss the baby, and said, ‘Good boy!’ before the video ended, almost as if the baby was completing a performance or test of some kind. This video made me a little sad. Babies shouldn’t have to perform for adults, yet that’s sometimes what we ask of them.

Before I studied with Magda Gerber, I know I sometimes played with babies in similar ways, missing the very subtle cues that would allow me to be more “in tune” with them, and follow their lead, instead of taking over and entertaining, or trying to coax a laugh. But once I got a glimpse of what was possible when babies were allowed to be the”writers, directors, and actors in their own play” (to quote Magda Gerber) there was no going back for me.

In my experience there is no sound more wonderful than that of a baby”s chortle of delight when her fancy is tickled by a new discovery or the invention of her own game, and there is nothing that beats the feeling of being invited into a game that a baby initiates. I’ve actually had the very rare treat of being present when a baby “discovered” and  “invented” the game of peek- a- boo for the first time- all on her own- without ever having first been introduced to the game by an adult. Talk about a priceless gift. I wish I had that on video to share with you!

It’s amazing to realize that if we just give babies time and space, if we follow their lead, they will invent their own games and sometimes invite us to play along. When we respect and trust our babies enough, we can slow down, and tune in to their cues. In this way, we may discover that we don’t have to work so hard to entertain, nor do we have to teach, but we can instead relax, enter, and share the baby’s world a little bit, as he discovers it on his own terms.

Trust me when I say it is a truly magical, delightful experience. Besides communicating trust and respect, when we refrain from entertaining, our babies don’t become hooked on, or look for constant stimulation in order to enjoy playing. In this way we protect their ability to discover and invent their own games.

For a short, beautiful, and insightful description by a  new Mom reflecting on her baby’s play, (Pikler/Gerber style) please see Nadine Hillmar’s recent blog post, ‘I play. You watch.’ Nadine’s post has served as my antidote to the “Laughing Baby” video, and my hope is that by sharing it with you, you might be able to see another way to approach play with a young child, one that might be a little different from what is considered the norm, yet one that offers the possibility of discovering the joy of entering a young child’s world on her terms…

What do do think?


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Gina April 1, 2011

This is such a powerful post, Lisa. Thank you so much for writing it. I think so many of us are moving so fast and not taking the time to stop & pay attention to our children and what they are actually capable of already doing or what they actually want (as opposed to what we THINK they want)! I am sure I entertained my children when they were babies in the same way this dad did – your post (and the suggestion to watch the video with no sound) really opened my eyes to what was going on for the child. In many ways, we as parents are looking for a reward from the baby to let us know we’re doing a good job. A baby’s hysterical laughter is such obvious, immediate gratification, I can totally understand why someone would continue to make it happen. Thank you for pointing out the more subtle wonders that can happen if we were to just be still for a bit. Great post! -Gina

janetlansbury April 1, 2011

Lisa, thank you for this thoughtful and brave post. I totally see your point about the baby’s focus when you turn the sound off. He really seems to want to use the paper his own way! This subtle manipulation is certainly less worrisome to me than tickling and throwing babies in the air, but I agree that it definitely comes under the heading of “adult/baby play usually means entertainment and subtle (or less subtle) manipulation”. I’m really glad you used this opportunity to articulate Magda Gerber’s way of playing with babies so beautifully. I wasn’t sure whether to add this, so please cut if it’s too much, but this is something I wrote on the subject… Yes, it is difficult to know how to connect with a young baby at first. But if we open our minds, take a leap of faith, find trust and a bit of patience, we discover the joy of engaging with infants in a more receptive, responsive way. We can join with our babies on more equal terms by allowing them to initiate play with us, letting them lead rather than follow. It brings a quieter, but no less potent form of joy, and it empowers our infants to be active participants in our relationship, a relationship that will be the model for the intimate bonds they have in the future. The is where the RIE Approach often seems unique, and why RIE babies (and parents) are so fortunate. Imagine you are not only provided with food, warmth, rest, cuddles and comfort by your attachment figures, but that you are also observed with interest, even pride as you discover your body and explore your world in your own way and time. You don’t have to perform or smile. You are engaging in and of yourself. You don’t have to be tickled or otherwise provoked to laughter for daddy or mommy to find ecstasy in your company. And when you do laugh, it is rich, full and genuine. But you don’t have to do anything. You are enough. Just being near you and watching what you might choose to do fills your parents with pleasure and gratitude. Just imagine the level of self-confidence this instills, the comfort with every aspect of self.

Bence April 1, 2011

Lisa, you have just demonstrated the power of observation. The skills to observe a baby are built with experience and we have so little practice and give it so little time. Bravo! With the sound turned off it is obvious that the eyes of the little boy keep returning to the piece of paper in HIS hands, not the father. At one point he even holds to paper close to his chest almost saying “let me have it” when his dad pulls it away from him. Looks like you are one of the few, who could tune in to the baby’s perspective, rather than the parents point of view.

Anonymous April 1, 2011

This is really, really interesting, Lisa. I laughed along with the video b/c I’m one of those suckers for baby laughs. The sound of my son giggling, even now at 4, lights up my world. I’m going to re-watch the video. Thanks for presenting a different take – definitely something to think about.

Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) April 1, 2011

Wow, I hadn’t even thought about it that way but when you put it in that perspective, it certainly makes sense. This post is so thoughtful, insightful, and educational. I love how you promote letting babies initiate and direct their own play. I’m going to watch the video again. Poweful message Lisa, thank you so much.

Suchada @ Mama Eve April 1, 2011

Lisa, I’m so glad I read this post before I saw the video for the first time. I watched with the sound off as you suggested, and it was hard for me to not say to the screen, “He just wants to play with the paper, let him play with the paper!!”. Through you and Janet I’ve learned to see my children with new eyes, and had a magical moment with my younger son the other day when he discovered the slide at the playground for the first time (after sitting by my side for months). It was *precious*, and something I would have missed if it weren’t for you. Thank you so much for helping me find these moments!

Melissa @ New Mommy Files April 1, 2011

This video provoked similar thoughts in me, but I couldn’t articulate them quite so well as you have here. You hit the nail on the head with your post. It is frustrating to see babies used as agents for adult enjoyment – as performers – and it’s so common that even people like myself, who *know* better, get caught up in the fun of making a baby laugh. We can gain so much more by watching and observing them! Thank you for the important reminder.

Scott April 1, 2011

can definitely see this perspective on the video, and you’re totally right… that baby really wants to play with the paper by himself! But then the baby is also clearly having a good time being thwarted too. I think there is room for both kinds of play. I love baby-led playing of the “in-tune” variety you’re talking about, and I think it’s very important and healthy. But I also think babies are amused by having their expectations up-turned sometimes, and sometimes enjoy the act of following someone else’s lead. I think about my 10-month-old playing with my 3-year-old… The 3-year-old is pretty dominant, naturally, and the 10-month-old is often thrilled at the unexpectedness of it all, amused by her big sister’s antics, and willing to follow her sister anywhere. I don’t think that’s unhealthy play. And I guess I see this as similar. If that were the ONLY way this baby were allowed to play, I think it’d be a real problem. But I think many different kinds of play are acceptable and enriching for babies. The baby-led version of play is probably the most important one, but I think a mixture of various play styles would be the best of all. So, to me, while I can see that the baby wants to have the paper, I can also see that the baby is entertained by not getting what he wants, and I think that’s a valid form of play as well. Just a thought! Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama April 1, 2011

I am so glad I read this post – what a powerful reminder! I watched the video with the sound first (before reading), but as soon as I read and watched with the sound off, I saw exactly what you did. Your post was the topic of conversation at our breakfast table this morning 🙂 Thank you!

Annicles April 1, 2011

I thought he was crying rather than laughing, when I saw it the first time. He sounds frustrated. It’s the kind of laughing that soon becomes a frustrated cry. Although I also agree with Scotts point that sometimes, children enjoy being surprised, the surprise was wearing thin quickly.

Linda Burnam May 14, 2011

I Love the sound of babies laughing and I have been guilty myself of trying to get a baby to laugh repeatedly at something they laughed at once spontaniously. Why? It is contagoius! I don’t think of it as entertainment. Laughter is such a blessing and as we get older we loose some of our ability to enjoy some of the little things like the sound of paper ripping. That is why the vidio is so popular. I am sure in the dads case he felt he had a right to rip up his own job rejection letter! It was somewhat disrepectful to take it out of his hands and not let him explore it and then not to at least share it. Yes, we need to respect babies and treat them as people. I do not think this video was a model of quality interactions. However, I did enjoy the babies laugh and that his laugh was healing to his dad and alot of people. I love working with infants and toddlers because they remind me all the time to enjoy discovery and all the tings my sences take in. I get to enjoy just watching these young ones and listening to them and having relationships with them and I feel so blessed. They have a lot to give us NOW not just in the future. I would rather see that video bightening peoples days than some of the other stuff out there. But, it is also good to have experts point out that babies are not just here to make us feel good and that they are real people deserving of respect! Thanks.

Angelique May 31, 2011

Hi Lisa, I understand completely what you are talking about. It was a new experience to watch this video without sound. I think we grown ups have many times “problems” of looking at a baby or child in a open minded respectful and non conditional way, we only don’t recognize that we are doing it. Thank you for pointing out the way the infant’s side of this superwatched YT video…

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