by Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Mad
Much has been said about the importance of happiness for both children and adults. Research tells us that when we focus on happy things, we are generally more resilient, focused, and appreciative of life.
But being a glass-half-full person doesn’t just happen. We have to learn how to appreciate experiences. This skill is modeled initially by our caregivers when we’re babies, and later fortified by our teachers, friends, mentors, and other loved ones as we grow up.
Joy is not something we’re born with either. The building blocks for finding it are sparked by our early experiences with others. While children can learn how to experience and savor joy, it’s up to us as adults to teach them.
Like happiness, joy offers enormous benefits for children. It improves academic, social, and interpersonal aspects of early childhood. It also sparks feelings of awe, as well as gratitude.
Here are five tips for sparking joy.
1. Be a Role Model for Joy
Make sure you express joy when you feel it. And use the word joy when you do. “I love the picture you drew. I feel so happy and full of joy.” Clap your hands for a moment. Shout out a “Woot woot.” Or put a kick in your step. Help little ones understand that joy differs from happiness, and how. Joy is a fleeting emotion, one that swells inside us and spills over with enthusiasm and delight. Don’t hesitate to point out when children feel joy too: “Look at you so full of joy right now!”
2. Decorate with a Joyful Palette
Create a joyful canvas in your space by choosing colors that scientifically boost mood. Yellows, oranges, and pinks are joyful colors, while purples, blues, and greens invite creativity, peace, and calm. You can add hues and colorful textures by painting walls—or by incorporating colorful pillows, toys, knickknacks, and other everyday items. Don’t forget to display children’s art or writings throughout your space, letting them, as well as visitors, appreciate the joy in their creations.
3. Celebrate the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
Teach children to find splendor in the ordinary. A leaf can be just a rumpled part of a tree that skims across the lawn. Or it can spark a joyful moment: Chase after it. Inspect it. What color or colors do you see? What tree do you think it came from? Take a rainy day and create something special about it. Sit at mealtime and ask each person what brought them joy during their day. When children learn how to make the ordinary extraordinary, they can more easily find joy in everyday life.
4. Teach Children to Detect Negative Experiences
Learning how to be joyful is important, but so is learning how to detect unpleasant experiences. The better children can sense negative things, the better they can problem-solve to find happiness. So help children sense when a person, an experience, or a moment is unpleasant by talking about it. “That boy on the slide yelling at the other children isn’t very nice. Let’s go to the swings instead.” “I got upset when the cars all honked their horns. Didn’t you?” “It is just too hot to play outside today, right? Let’s go inside where it’s cool and find something else to do.”
5. Create a Joyful, Grateful Space
Make it a point to keep a joyful outlook at home or in the classroom. This includes teaching children how to count their blessings, practice gratitude, and end their day on a positive note. The old tried-and-true “What are you thankful for today?” really does deepen gratitude. Plus the more you take time to share moments of joy, the more those memories stay with you.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.
Deborah is the author of the Sometimes When collection.
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