How to Inspire Your Kids to Spread Happiness

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Today is the International Day of Happiness!  While it might seem a bit much to dedicate a day to celebrating happiness, I think a day like this is exactly what we need in this world.  Research shows us that connecting to others increases overall happiness, so it makes good sense that theme of today is making more connections.

Sure, you probably feel connected 24/7 thanks to your super smart phone, but how deep do those connections go?  How often do you carve out time to actually engage with others in a meaningful way?  We are a generation of quick wit and instant gratification, and we need to learn to slow down and consider the messages we send our children.

In this busy, go-go-go time of parenting, we need to learn to step back and find time to strengthen our existing relationships and establish new ones.

Just yesterday and elderly woman stopped me on my way into Rite Aid.  I was in a hurry, but the smile on her face told me that she needed to have a conversation.  Sure enough, she wanted to talk about polarized sunglasses.  It was a new concept to her and she wanted to know if I had any thoughts about them.  For fifteen minutes we stood in the entryway of the store, chatting about the glare, eye strain and saving money with coupons.  Then she patted me on the back and walked into the sunshine with her new polarized glasses.

Did that small connection make her day?  I don’t know, but it sure made mine!  I told my kids about it over dinner.  We talked about grandparents and getting older and loneliness…and then they talked about little things that might make other people happy.

Adults tend to be over-thinkers.  We know too much about the great big world, and that causes us to think big.  We think in grand gestures, and that can stop us from actually taking the time to connect with others.  When spreading happiness feels like another thing on the list, it’s easy to push it down. If we look to our children, however, we find that spreading happiness and establishing connections is actually quite simple.  The key is to think smaller.

My daughter always reminds me that smaller is happier by way of picking wildflowers for me along our walks.  She puts them in glasses with water and places them on the kitchen table for all to enjoy.  And we really do enjoy them. My son shows his small acts of kindness with his words.  He whispers kind words and leaves me sweet love notes almost every day.  And it works.  His child-sized expressions of love bring me great happiness – and that melts the stress away.

So how can we inspire our kids to spread kindness and happiness?

Point out acts of kindness:

This brings us back to thinking small, especially when it comes to very young children.  You know that bird nest your child created out of twigs and leaves?  That’s kindness in action.  You know that flower your child just had to pick for Grandma?  That’s kindness in action.

Talk about the acts of kindness that you see each day.  Discuss how those acts might make other people feel.  Connect the dots so that your children learn that they have the ability to help others feel happy.

Praise thoughtful behavior:

Kids do kind things because they want to show others that they care.  It’s how they express their love and gratitude.  While you probably thank them for those little pictures drawn on tiny scraps of paper, you might not be as inclined to label that action as “thoughtful”.  You should.

You want to know eight words that will build your child up and inspire further acts of kindness?  Here goes:  “I love that you are a thoughtful person.”  Go ahead, try it.  Your child will smile, that much I know.

Teach positive thinking:

Life can be frustrating, even for little kids.  Negative thinking can get in the way of kind behavior and overall happiness.  When kids have an “I can’t” approach to the hard stuff, they have a hard time seeing a positive end result.

Teach them to reframe their thoughts.  Stop a negative thought cycle with these steps:

  • I can see that your frustrated.  This feels really hard.
  • Take three deep breaths with me to take a break for a minute.
  • Let’s think of some positive words we can use while we work on this problem.
  • I’ll stay with you, and you can let me know if you need any help.

Model kindness:

Take the time to make connections and engage in small acts of kindness in the presence of your children.  Bring in the neighbor’s trash cans, help someone carry groceries, hold the door wide open (even if you have to slow down and wait)…

Kids learn a lot by watching us.  Do we all have great days every day?  No.  But we can model kindness, talk about our mistakes, and teach our kids to spread happiness…all we have to do is slow down and stay connected.

Have a happy day!

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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)