We all want our kids to have happy joyful lives. And the great news is that joy can be cultivated. In fact, there are practices that you can start doing in your own home on a daily basis that can bring pleasure and foster authentic happiness in your children (and in yourself, as well).
Helping Kids Find Joy in the Day to Day
Research shows that gratitude increases happiness and social support in kids, both of which are crucial for the long-term wellbeing of humans. And in our own practice (and lives), we’ve found that gratitude is a powerful motivator for happiness.
Building an attitude of gratitude into your child’s life can feel challenging. But switching the channel from negative thinking to grateful thinking can have an incredibly deep impact. And the process for getting there involves just a few minutes a day.
You might try practicing gratitude around the dinner table, by simply asking your child what they were grateful for that day. You can encourage them to keep a special gratitude journal, where they can jot down what they’re thankful for. You can also help them create symbols that work to remind them. Small beads threaded on a string works very well as a tangible physical reminder of all the good things in their lives, and they can add to it each time they remember something that fills them with gratitude.
Practicing active compassion (i.e., taking compassionate action) is a great way to teach children to help others. But it’s also a fantastic way to strengthen our relationships, an important part of feeling joy. In fact, researchers have found that having strong social connections and developing high-quality relationships is a vital part of overall happiness.
Encouraging active compassions means doing. But it doesn’t have to be hard, especially for kids. A phone call to nana who hasn’t been feeling well. Or mailing a thank you card. It could even be giving a hug to a pet or watering the drooping plants. As long as your child feels that they are helping someone (or something) through a challenging time, they’ll feel great (and joy!).
Expect Effort (Not Achievement)
Relentlessly expecting achievement (or worse, perfection) from our kids is a sure fire way to ensure they’re not happy. Parents who overemphasise achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety and sadness.
On the other hand, more than three decades of research demonstrates that when parents focus on effort (not achievement) their children have more success in school and in life, and, ultimately, have more happiness.
Allow More Playtime
There is a lot of research about the benefits of mindfulness today. And the great news is that kids have a built in mindfulness strategy—playtime. When kids are out playing, they are, in effect, already practicing mindfulness by fully enjoying the moment that they’re in.
Research shows that Australian kids spend less than half an hour a day playing outdoors after school. And nearly half spend two hours a day on screens. But this lost playtime is essential to growth, learning and, of course, joy. And all you have to do to get all the benefits of this in your child’s life is simply to budget more time for your kids to just get outside and play.
Reframing Distorted Thinking
Kids, like all of us, sometimes struggle with distorted, negative thinking patterns that can throw a spanner into their joy. They need ways that counteract these patterns so they don’t find themselves spiralling down into feelings of despair. Reframing these patterns helps them go from negative to realistic thinking.
You can help your child reframe their thought patterns with a simple writing exercise. Have them divide a paper in two, and on one side write down their negative thoughts. On the other side have them write down the opposite or the antidote to those thoughts. So, for example, if your child thinks, ‘No one likes me,’ then on the other side of the page they can write, ‘One person was mean to me, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not likable. I am kind and funny and can make good friends.’
During the week help them to notice opportunities for seeing that positive thought in action. And when the negative thoughts creep in, encourage them to focus on the positive. Over time this helps to rewire their brains to the positive, helping it to be their natural, joy-inducing default setting.
Benefits of Finding Joy
Giving your children opportunities to grow authentic happiness will increase their wellbeing, and help them better cope with the stresses of the world. They’ll be more present, have more self-compassion and feel more open and present to the joy that life can bring on a day to day basis.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
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