July 16, 2021
Using Humor in the Perinatal Classroom - Why You Should Use it and How to Do it Confidently
By: Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD/BDT(DONA), CLE | 0 Comments
When I think about my teaching style, there are a few descriptive phrases that I believe accurately describe what families can expect when they attend my classes, either in person or virtually. They can plan on:
- receiving evidence-based information and current best practice recommendations.
- experiencing a class space that is non-judgmental, respectful of each individual’s decisions and welcoming to all people.
- expecting interactive, hands on learning that sticks.
- having the material presented humorously when appropriate.
In the paper “How to Use Humor in Clinical Settings,” published in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Paul Osincup shares what research has shown about the use of humor by health care professionals.
Benefits of humor
Humor in the health care setting can improve the health and the well-being of patients. When someone laughs or experiences a funny situation, their stress hormones go down, their blood pressure lowers, they experience less pain and their immune system gets stronger. Additionally, it builds trust between the people who are laughing. While these are good things to have happen during a labor and birth, if possible, letting families experience these benefits during their childbirth education can go a long way toward a positive birth experience.
While families arrive at the beginning of the first perinatal class excited, there is also no doubt an underlying sense of nervousness. Giving birth is a big transition, there is lots of “scary” (and often inaccurate) information out there, and everyone loves to give unasked for “advice” to the pregnant person and their partner.
When the childbirth educator uses humor appropriately, it can settle folks down, and help them to be open to receiving information.
Humor is a habit
Humor does not come as natural to some people as it does to others. But you can learn how to be funny! Osincup states that you can develop the right mindset by incorporating humor habits into your life. By using any or all of these techniques, explained in the paper, you too can become funny (or funnier).
- Comedy commute
- Three funny things intervention
- Play the “what I cold’ve said” game
- Five-minute funny
- Follow funny
“Training your brain to have more of a funny focus is about being intentional and not simply hoping for but harnessing humor. It’s okay if you aren’t naturally funny. Humor is not a talent. Humor is a habit.”
Improv to improve
Osincup shares that when you use improvisation as part of your humor banter, you are indicating that you are “present, listening and building upon what others offer.” People appreciate that in a health care setting. It shows you are not just going through the motions.
Using humor is a choice and not left up to chance
By having passive humor on display, in images, written and verbal communication and instruction, amongst other places, you can set the tone for a lighthearted and positive interaction. Osincup calls this “priming the pump.”
Also making the choice to use "conversation starters" that incorporate humor is essential. You can easily do that by including a funny question to answer during an icebreaker - a great way to set a light and humorous tone right at the very start of a class.
Nothing builds community like realizing that everyone in attendance has the same “pain points” - annoying things that they are experiencing during their pregnancy. Facilitating conversations and laughter about these common discomforts can create a positive interaction between class members.
Exaggeration, Osincup explains, is also an easy to use and very simple comedic tool. Using examples that might be slightly exaggerated, can often introduce a round of laughter as people realize how ridiculous your comment is.
One technique for being funny that is shared in the paper is the “comic triple” which I think would be so easy to incorporate into your classes. List three items in a row, having the first two being serious and accurate and the final one being funny, surprising or different.
A final strategy for being humorous is “laughter yoga,” which is a guided yoga breathing exercise that is done while laughing. You lead the class in deep, rhythmic breathing with the exhale being a sound associated with laughter, along with some movement. This is right up the alley of the childbirth educator who is usually teaching breathing exercises anyway.
Read the room
Humor can also fall short, so it is important to read the room, and make sure your humorous statements are being received in the manner in which you intended them Sometimes, it helps to focus the humor on yourself rather than on the situation of the pregnant families. Laughing at yourself is ok, but be careful to not appear unknowledgeable or unqualified. Additionally, be sure your humor is both inclusive and positive, Do not use humor that is aimed at a specific group of people.
Not every educator finds humor in the perinatal classroom easy or natural or even necessary. But using humor can have benefits for the families in your classes and help make their learning more memorable, build confidence and also lower their stress. Please read “How to Use Humor in Clinical Settings” for excellent guidance on how to develop your humor habits, learn how to deliver humor appropriately and what to watch out for so that you don’t cause any harm or make anyone uncomfortable.
Do you use humor when teaching childbirth classes? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Osincup, P. (2020). How to use humor in clinical settings. AMA Journal of Ethics, 22(7), 588-595. Chicago
TagsChildbirth education Research Sharon Muza Humor Paul Osincup