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Ep #42: Your Child’s Mental Health: Why Humor Matters with Kelli Caldwell

Raising Healthy Kid Brains with Amy Nielson |  Your Child’s Mental Health: Why Humor Matters with Kelli Caldwell

What are some ways you can include humor in your daily life, both to navigate the challenges of parenthood and to bolster your child’s mental health? 

This week, I’m speaking to Kelli Caldwell, also known as Kelli Welli. She’s an award-winning songwriter and performer for kids and the people who love them. Her songs celebrate and honor all the parts of raising healthy little kids. At a time where we’re focused on trying to fix big issues in the world, Kelli believes there is tremendous value in including humor and silliness in her collection of songs, and she’s here today to show us why.

Join us on this episode as Kelli highlights how important humor is for your child’s brain development and mental health. She’s sharing her personal childhood experience and how humor played a vital part in navigating that, why laughter and levity in learning are powerful for both parents and children, and ways you can include humor into your daily life.

To thank you for being a listener here, we made you a special freebie. It’s an amazing alphabet activity you can begin using with your kiddos that is so fun, so get started by clicking here to grab it!

What You’ll Learn:

  • How motherhood inspires Kelli’s songwriting.
  • Why I call Kelli the Pixar of children’s music.
  • How Kelli’s songs provide tools for parents to use with children.
  • Why Kelli prioritizes including humor in her music.
  • The power of bringing laughter and levity to teaching.
  • Kelli’s childhood experience and how she used humor to navigate her trauma.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

How important is humor for your child’s mental health? And what are some ways you can include that into your daily life, both for relationship building with your child as well as just helping their brain work better, helping them manage stress and cope with hard things?

Today I had the most amazing conversation with Kelli Caldwell. She is a children’s songwriter who performs as Kelli Welli and has won awards for her songs both internationally and nationally. Kelli has a pretty impressive background with a Master’s of publishing degree in speech communication, with minors in Japanese and German.

In her working life she was doing marketing and PR and even started her own publishing business. After she became a mom, and she’ll talk a little bit about this in our conversation together, but she is a mom to twins. And as she became a mom, she got interested in doing some songwriting.

Come and find out why I call her the Pixar of children’s music, hear a little bit more about her personal story of a very traumatic childhood and how she has used humor to work her way through that.

She’ll talk about how her children helped her write her last album and even her dog is a songwriter. You’ll get to hear more from Kelli right after this.

Welcome to the Raising Healthy Kid Brains podcast, where moms and teachers come to learn all about kids’ brains, how they work, how they learn, how they grow, and simple tips and tricks for raising the most resilient, kind, smart, compassionate kids we can, all while having lots of grace and compassion for ourselves because you know what? We all really need and deserve that too. I am your host, Amy Nielson. Let’s get ready to start the show.

Amy: Kelli, welcome to the show. We’re so happy to have you on today.

Kelli: Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here. And yeah, I appreciate your time so much.

Amy: This is so amazing. So I have been able to talk to you a little bit behind the scenes, but tell everybody, our listeners, a little bit about yourself and how you got into being a musician and a children’s songwriter.

Kelli: Well, I’m Kelli Caldwell, but I go by Kelli Welli in my music for kids and people who love them, I like to say that. I’m a children’s songwriter and performer. I’ve been recording songs for about 10 years. So I have about four albums. A new one out recently. And learning the ropes in the kids music community, I guess. There are a lot of really amazing artists out there with lots to show for and lots to teach. So I made friends with a lot of people in the community and just became a kids musician when I had my kids.

Actually I’d been songwriting for a long time, and then it was natural for me to transition to having them really be my focus and my inspiration in so many ways. But also, as they started to be able to sing a little bit or hum or talk, then we started writing songs together. And they’ve been involved with my albums, I have 10 year old twins, I guess I should mention that. A boy and a girl, Ryan and Kira. And they are so fun and they’re good critics as well.

So it’s been really nice to share that process with them. They’ve come in and recorded in the studio on some of the music. And then they’ve also recently helped me make a stop motion music video that we’ve had accepted into a bunch of film festivals. We just got back from ComiCon down in San Diego because it was accepted into their film festival there. So that’s been really cool. And yeah, we just have lots of music to continue to make and are having a great time doing it.

And the other last thing I wanted to say though, is that I also got a lot of inspiration being a mom to try to make music for other parents and to write about things that they can relate to and the things you’re going through as a new parent. So that’s why I like to say I write songs for kids and the people who love them. That’s really important to me.

Amy: I love that so much. We were talking about this when we were having a conversation earlier and you were saying that you’re writing songs for kids and also their parents. And when we were kind of chatting through what that looked like, it kind of made me think that you’re like the Pixar of songwriting, of children’s songwriting because there’s humor in there that’s for parents so that parents can enjoy it, but also it’s for kids, right?

Because I love that when you’re watching Pixar films that there’s humor that’s parent-friendly. And you’re like, oh, that’s so funny. So I loved that you did that.

Kelli: Yeah, thank you. Actually, that’s a great way to put it. I might have to take your tagline there because that’s totally it, right? When you watch Toy Story and you know that your little kids are not getting all the details and the amazing details that they put into those movies. That is true.

When I sit down with my producer and the musicians who are playing with us, I’m constantly saying, okay, we want to make sure that this is smart, not only for the kids because I have such respect for kid brains. And we’re not talking down to anyone, but we also want to have those little Easter eggs sort of in the songs that parents might get right away and chuckle a little for the 25th time, because it’s usually on repeat when you have little kids.

They might otherwise get sick of listening to that song, except that there are those subtle details for them in there. That matters a lot to me in this.

Amy: I love that you think through that and include that. Because for those of us that do get to listen to songs over and over again or watch movies over and over again, which is pretty much all of us, right? Then we love having a little bit of something there for us. It’s just fun.

I was really interested too, in your songwriting and how you’re using it basically as a way to create tools for parents to use with children. Tell me a little bit about that because I find that really fascinating. I don’t think we always think through that. So tell me a little bit about that.

Kelli: Yeah, well, I think that there are songs out there that are kind of toolbox songs. Tiger, for example, is a really good set of short songs for them to try new things or how to share things like that. But people may not recognize it as much in songs that are just played on the radio. I don’t know, they’re often used in those preschool environments, little cleanup, cleanup, now it’s time to clean up sort of thing.

But yeah, I think as a parent I really appreciated those types of little songs. But for myself, especially since I am thinking about the grownups and what they’re experiencing a lot too, I like to approach it with a little more of a subtle way, sort of method where the songs, some of them are very focused, I should say. Like, we’re almost there, we’re almost there. Don’t you worry because we’re almost there.

That’s a simple song that you can change out. We’re almost to the zoo, we’re almost to the park and use it in the car when your kids are asking, are we almost there or are we there yet? The waiting song is another little song I’ve written. I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting for my turn.

And it’s one that I like to say in shows that it’s quite short. Maybe you can keep it in your pocket for when you’re waiting in line to go on the slide or to share a toy. And if you sing this song to yourself, by the time it’s your turn, you might not feel like you’ve waited quite so long. It’s a tool to help get through those little moments.

And as I mentioned, I have a bunch of other songs that include little tools like that, but they’re not quite as straightforward as the waiting time or we’re almost there. Like I Can’t Find My Appendix is a song I wrote when I was basically starting to get tired of having my kids ask me where things were in the house without ever actually looking, or maybe my husband without actually looking.

And then my friend Max, who was about eight at the time, I think, lost his appendix. He went to the hospital and they took out his appendix. So I wrote this song, I Can’t Find My Appendix. And it’s goofy. It’s all about I can’t find it. I had it when I went to school this morning. I’ve looked in the backyard. I’ve looked through my Legos. And it’s ridiculous, but it’s also just kind of a fun and different take on providing a tool in music.

And so the thing that we repeat in that song is let’s retrace our steps. Let’s retrace our steps. And laughing along the way as we’re talking about losing an appendix, tonsils, front teeth, and mom losing her car keys. So those little details. And then in the shows when we’re doing a live performance, we can say did you lose anything, anyone?

The only thing that happened one time though is that a little kid came up and said that they had just lost their grandpa.

Amy: Oh, shoot. Oh, oh dear.

Kelli: So that taught me to be careful or be prepared.

Amy: Be prepared for that.

Kelli: I wasn’t prepared for that one, yeah.

Amy: I love, though, the different levels of that though because you’re teaching this skill, which all of us I feel like have to teach kids because I think they just kind of sometimes rely on us to go find all their things. But teaching them that skill set of when you’re frustrated when you’ve lost something, we retrace our steps and we look here and we look there. And sometimes it’s frustrating because I lost it and I don’t know where and I just had it and now it’s gone.

So I love that they’re getting to express those thoughts and those feelings, those emotions, or even if maybe they don’t have all the words for that yet they get to do it with the song and get to express that feeling of frustration and loss maybe through the song. But then also doing it with laughter. And laughter is just something, I think you and I both value. We talked about this.

So talk to me about that, where you are including a lot of humor in your songs. I obviously am obsessed with play, right? So talk to me about humor and why you feel like that’s so important to include in your music.

Kelli: Yeah, I’m glad we share that appreciation. It feels like something that should kind of go without saying that laughter and levity are important in life and everyone wants to be able to laugh and have some fun. But I feel like people can tend to kind of forget about how healthy laughter is and how purposeful it can be, especially in teaching something, because there’s going to be a lot of teaching that is directed. Here’s how you do this. And here’s how we do that.

And a lot of times when you’re using humor, you’re helping someone to kind of arrive at that place on their own by getting whatever the joke is or seeing the irony in something. And little kids are not going to use those terms, but we still all can share an experience, basically, when we’re laughing about something.

And there’s just so much to the value of laughter in terms of the health behind it and how it releases certain chemicals in our brains and relaxes muscles and all of those things that you can read about on or places like that.

But with my music I like to include a lot of silliness and things that will allow people to have a little bit of a break or a breather, I guess, from some of the stresses in life because when I think on my time with my little kids, they were accomplishing so much in any given day just by being kids. And we know that play especially is how they learn and grow and develop into healthy people, develop their brains. And laughter is often an element that allows people to relax and play and move forward.

I was thinking about this with my own kids, we would have so many details in any given day, just getting through the bath, or the food, or getting to the park and getting out of the house and getting back into the house. And that’s for me, right? All of the stressors of just being a new parent. But for them, they’re learning how to touch their fingers together or grab something or make a sound.

And I think it’s really easy to forget how complicated everything is that they’re accomplishing. So I think that having a silly book or listening to a silly song was a way for us to kind of come together, rest in some ways to feel and remind each other that we all belong together, we all relate in the same way.

I was thinking about how hard the world feels right now and how much we are bombarded right now with politics and climate change and big topics that are social and political and important. I think it’s important that we recognize that when we are so focused on trying to fix or teach how to fix some of those big issues or problems in the world, that we’re putting a lot of extra weight on our kids and they’re already dealing with a lot as kids just by being kids.

So, for me, allowing myself to just write songs that are silly or put songs out there that are silly and give them some time and the parents some time to laugh and relax and rest a little bit, it feels like a contribution almost to the cause when there has been kind of a movement, I think, in recent years in children’s books and then following in music and entertainment to teach kids a lot about big topics.

Amy: It is valuable, but I think you’re right, it does add additional pressure. And I think what’s so beautiful, I think, about laughter and silliness and ridiculousness is that I think it gives a couple of things. I think you’re right, it’s that break, it’s that rest from some of the heavy stuff, right? Which is good, we want balance. Even as adults we have to do our serious stuff, but my gosh, we can still play, right? And hopefully we are.

So I love that. Laughter releases tension, right? It’s such a good coping skill for all the hard things, right? But I also love that it is relationship building at the same time. So I think we’re finding a way to release tension, we’re finding a way to have bright spots, like the Easter eggs you were talking about. It’s like Easter eggs and all the stuff that we’re learning and all the stuff we’re working on, and all the stuff we’re doing, those all matter and it’s really important. But also we can laugh and we can play, and that’s really important too.

And then building relationships, when you’re laughing with someone, like you talked about, it kind of brings you together. And so when we’re doing that in a classroom altogether of children of all kinds and we’re coming together, laughing together and singing together, right? Or if you’re at home with your kids and you’re building that bank, right, where we’re supposed to have at least, I think it’s five positive interactions for every negative one, right?

Kelli: Oh, yeah, right?

Amy: So I think laughter and singing can be such a positive one, right, where we’re being silly together. And then I think we’ve talked about this on the podcast before in previous episodes with our psychologists and neuroscientists, how helping children recognize that there’s space for being silly and a little bit funny and whatever is really important for building their creativity as well.

And so it doesn’t all have to look exactly proper and exactly like it would come from a textbook. It can be just silly and fun and crazy and that’s so good for building their brains and their creativity. So I love all of those pieces of that, and that you include that in your music. That’s amazing.

Kelli: Thank you. Yeah, and I feel like laughter isn’t something that people don’t really judge that often. So it is something that you can do together. Obviously, we don’t choose to do it together, it just happens. But I think that we may not think about it all the time.

But if you get a group of people together who come from very different perspectives, very wide divide in society, a silly sweet joke, not something that’s going to make fun of anyone, but just a silly, sweet joke, and they all get it and they all laugh together. That’s an instantaneous moment where shields come down, people are connected, even if for a fraction of a second. And it’s powerful.

I think we talked about this before too, I grew up in a pretty difficult childhood. I’m pretty open about that. I had a mother who suffered from very severe mental illness. And she was a single mother, so we were going through a lot of very difficult things that are outside of the scope of most people’s experiences.

But the one thing, maybe not the only thing, but one big thing that I know helped us to get through a lot of very difficult times, and sometimes even right in the middle of a crisis, was laughter and humor and the ability to look at the situation and be right in the middle of it and see something silly. Or not be in the middle of it and needing to recover from whatever had happened, watching silly TV together.

We used to watch Saturday Night Live. Even when I was a little kid, my mom and I did that together. And boy, she had a difficult time and she was difficult in a lot of ways, but she was also hilarious. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that I will keep from that relationship. And one of the things that I value that she passed on was that ability to see the humor in things, also to use humor to point out things that are important. Honor things by giving that focus and space.

Amy: And attention.

Kelli: Yeah, attention.

Amy: Yeah, we talked a lot about that when you and I were just chatting. And I had a pretty unique childhood as well with a lot of really difficult things. And yeah, we talk about humor and the value, it is just such a beautiful tool for coping. And I feel like one of the most beneficial things I’ve had in my life as well. So I do, I value that so much and I love that we’re teaching that to our little littles, right, with music and that we can do that.

We are almost out of time, I really wanted to get a chance to talk about your newest album though, because I want everyone to be able to go out and find it and grab it. So you just released your fourth album, and tell us the name.

Kelli: Baby Ninja.

Amy: I love it.

Kelli: So it’s 16 tracks, and I also made a comic book to go along with the title track. So I should send that to you. It is a Baby Ninja comic book about the song, read along with the song I should say. And the song is basically about a baby and all the amazing things that a baby is doing on any given day, like we talked about, and just honoring that amazing process of growing. But of course there’s a humorous bent and a lot of it is also meant to reach parents who are just tired and want to get some sleep and know how it is.

Amy: I love it.

Kelli: Yes, we all know how it is to have a baby ninja, basically.

Amy: Yes.

Kelli: Yeah, so there are some guest artists who came and sang on some of the songs, and my kids sang on some of the songs, and my dog wrote one of the songs, Dirty Socks. Yeah, she’s a songwriter. And we had a great time.

So it’s got a little bit for kids in elementary school, a little bit for kids in preschool, definitely some for babies, whether they can understand the words or not they’re soaking it all in. That’s one of the lines in the song, Baby Ninja song. And then for parents who are going through all this new parenting experience.

Amy: Experiencing it all, right? We get to do it all.

Kelli: Yeah.

Amy: I love it. We will 100% include the link to that new album in our show notes and I’m so excited to get to check it out.

Kelli: Thank you.

Amy: Thank you so much for coming on and chatting with me today. It’s been delightful to get to know more about you and your process and writing songs and your purpose. And I’m excited for everyone to get to find your music.

Kelli: Thank you. Thanks so much for all you do. It’s really been cool to hear behind the scenes too some of the amazing work that you’re doing and to see all of it that you’re doing out there with your podcast and everything that you’re doing with planning playtime. So I really am honored to be here.

Amy: Thank you so much.

Don’t you just love all the fun things we’re learning on the show together? Well, we wanted to give you a chance to practice a little bit of it at home. And so we made you a special freebie just for being a listener here and you can grab it at\special-freebie that is\special-freebie.

So what this freebie is, I’ll tell you, is an amazing alphabet activity that you can start using with your kiddos and it is based on play and is so fun. You can use dot markers with it, you can use Q-tip painting, you could use circle cereal. There’s all kinds of options, but you can print it out today and get started. Just head over to\special-freebie and we’ll send that to you right away.

Thank you for hanging out with me today for this fun chat on Raising Healthy Kid Brains. If you want to see more of what we’re doing to support kiddos and their amazing brains, come visit us on our website See you next week.

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