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!

Happy Kids on HuffPost Live!

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Let me start by saying that I am humbled by the response to my latest article on the Huffington Post, “7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children“.  The fact that happiness made front page news warms my heart and gives me hope.  Many thanks to all who have read and shared the happy.

This morning, HuffPost Live News interviewed me about my article.  We chatted about all things happy and how to help kids experience greater happiness, even during times of stress.  I hope you’ll take a moment to check it out.

 

Thanks, as always for your readership and support.  I hope you’re having a happy summer and soaking in every last moment before the new school year begins.

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Happy Moms, Happy Kids

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Want happy kids?  Of course you do!  Stop by The Huffington Post to read 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!

We’ve known for quite some time that maternal and/or parental stress trickles down and causes stress for children.  Numerous studies have shown that even infants can sense stress and react with a stress response.

But a new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the journal Developmental Science found that a mother’s perceived social status predicts her child’s brain development and stress indicators.  In this particular study, children whose mothers saw themselves as low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels and less activation of their hippocampus.  What does that mean?  They’re stressed.

It seems like the hidden dangers of stress are all over the news these days, and yet we live in a society that thrives on stress.  Clearly this isn’t working for our children.  It’s time to work on finding happiness, so that the trickle down effect sends happiness trickling down to our little ones.

Happy moms raise happy kids.  And all moms deserve to be happy.

Tips for prioritizing happiness.

Surround yourself with positive:

Any mom knows the power of the tribe.  Parenting is hard work and having a supportive network of friends and family truly makes the difference between feeling like you can handle just about anything and feeling utterly alone in this thing.  But it’s important to make sure that your tribe is a happy one.

Negativity is contagious.  So is stress.  On the bright side…happiness is too.

Surround yourself with people who will lift you and help you through the hard days without bringing you down along the way.

Keep the venting short:

It’s important to vent those overwhelming feelings when life is hard, and it’s really important to have a supportive ear on the other end of the line.  But it’s essential to keep it short.  You can get stuck in a negative cycle of constant complaining and venting that increases your stress and potentially leads to symptoms of depression.

People love to joke that a long talk with a friend is akin to a therapy session.  The truth is that a therapist won’t just sit back and let you spin a cycle of negativity for 45 minutes.  A therapist will step in and help you through those feelings to get to the other side.

Set a timer.  Get it out.  Then move on to the happy stuff.

Get your me time:

“I can’t find a single second to just sit down.”

It’s a common refrain in mom circles.  And for good reason.  No matter the ages of your kids, there is always something that requires doing.  Being a parent is a full time job and a lifelong commitment.  But you have to find some time for you.

It’s critical for moms to learn the art of self-care while parenting.  We need to de-stress.  We need exercise.  We need an hour (or a few) away here and there to rejuvenate and just enjoy some quiet time.  Sometimes you have to get creative, but me time can be done. I have one mom friend who worked out a running schedule with two other moms on her street so that each mom gets to run alone a few days a week.  Many moms alternate child care to give each other some time to be alone.

Your mental health is important – for you and your kids.  Find your time and feel happy.

Get organized:

Bottom line:  Lack of organization leads to unnecessary stress.  Find a system that works for you (ask around and check online, there are some very creative moms out there with amazing ideas) and prioritize de-cluttering your home and your mind.

When you feel more control over the day-t0-day stressors that sometimes get you down, you will begin to feel more confident.  This leads to greater overall happiness for moms.

Weekly stress assessments:

Choose a day to check your stress each week.  Start with a list of your most common triggers, and add and delete as necessary.  Find a quiet moment to sit down and review how the week went.  Were you less stressed?  More?  What helped?  What didn’t?

Self assessments help people gain some control over their own well-being.  Assessments can help you shift from feeling completely overwhelmed to confident in your ability to thrive, no matter the circumstances.

Final thoughts:  When you feel confident, you feel happy.  When you let go of stress and take some control, you are more likely to experience more positive feelings overall.  And that’s the stuff that you want trickling down to your kids.

Don’t forget to stop by The Huffington Post for 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!!!!

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New Year: New You

It’s almost January again.  This can only mean one thing:  After a long month of over-indulging on food, alcohol, and just about everything else, people everywhere will make their New Year’s resolutions.

Statistics tell us that most people will resolve to manage debt, lose weight, improve diet, drink less, reduce stress, volunteer more, get a better job, and finally quit smoking.  Those same statistics tell us that within 6 months, only 46% of people who set resolutions will continue to work on them.

Resolutions tend to encourage all-or-nothing thinking.  People set large goals (such as going to the gym every day) that might be hard to attain, and end up giving up when life gets in the way.

People who set more manageable goals, on the other hand, have a better chance of maintaining those goals long term.  Promising to hit the gym 3-4 times a week allows more room for error.  If you miss a day or two due to illness or a crazy work schedule, there are still 5 other days left in the week to get there.

Still, I think there’s a better way to handle this New Year’s resolution thing.  I think we should all skip the goals and resolutions this year and focus on happiness instead.  Kicking stress to the curb is an impossible task, it’s part of life after all, but improving your emotional well-being is both attainable and well within your grasp.  Happy parents raise happy kids.  It’s time to think about happiness.

Below are a few tips to help you think about you for a change:

1.    Find your tribe:  Between parenting, work, and marriage, it can be difficult to focus on friendships.  Women who feel supported by friends are better able to cope with stress and difficult situations.  Commit to your friendships by establishing weekly phone calls and regular face to face interactions.  Remember, friendship is always a two-way street.  You need to be able to listen to and support your friends as much as they listen to and support you.

2.    Talk it though once:  While research supports the importance of female relationships when it comes to feeling supported and heard, it also indicates the need for limits.  Talking through the same worries or issues repeatedly with a friend can quickly become a form of rumination known as “co-rumination” which can increase the stress hormone cortisol.  Talk it through once then do something productive like take a walk, play with your kids, or cook a healthy meal.  Resist the urge to continue dissecting the same stressful situation repeatedly.

3.    Think positive:  Stress is everywhere and bad things happen, but that doesn’t have to mean that life is stressful or bad.  People who celebrate the small accomplishments along the way and visualize a positive outcome are more likely to reach their goals and enjoy the ride.  Try not to let one difficult day leave you feeling depressed and/or guilt-ridden for days to come.  Acknowledge the stressor, work through it, and find your happy place.  When parents feel positive, their kids tend to experience more positive emotions.  As it turns out, looking on the bright side really does make the world a better place.

4.    Smile often:  Research shows that smiling actually does lift your mood.  It’s true.  That’s why it’s so contagious.  Stuck in a funk?  Force a smile.  Although faking it might seem unlikely to work, plastering a smile on your face can cause you to experience a mood lift.  Of course, engaging in uplifting behaviors helps too.  Play with your kids when you’re feeling down.  Let their smiles bring one to your face too.

5.    Hug it out:  Have you ever noticed that you feel less tense after you pull your kids in close for a big hug?  Experiencing touch from a loved one or someone you trust has been shown to reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure.  Grab your husband and/or your kids and hug it out as much as possible.  It will help the whole family.

6.    Avoid all or nothing thinking:  People who think in black and white experience more stress.  One bad choice does not a bad parent make.  Over-generalizing leads to a very negative pattern of thinking that can be difficult to correct.  Give yourself a break when you make a mistake, and allow yourself the chance to correct it.  We teach our kids to take a few deep breaths and then try again.  You have the right to do the same.  We all make mistakes and we all experience negative emotions at times, it’s what we do with them that counts.

7.    Work on coping:  Life is hard at times. Stress happens.  We can’t control everything that happens on a daily basis, but we can control how we react to stressful situations.  Give yourself a minute to process the stressor, use deep breathing to calm your anxious or angry reactions, and examine the situation before you react.  Make sure you have a few different coping strategies that work for you:  Visualization exercises, yoga, exercise, positive social interactions, and meditation are all proven stress reducers, but you have to do what works for you.  If chamomile tea and a good book provide stress relief for you, by all means make that happen.

8.    Stop the gossip:  Have you ever walked away from a gossip heavy conversation feeling just a little built guilty?  You’re not alone.  Judging others and engaging in gossip can increase stress levels and leave you feeling worse than when the conversation started.  Resist the temptation to join the gossip and engage in more positive and meaningful conversations instead.  Leaving the negativity behind will free you up to think positive and visualize all of that success coming your way in the New Year!

How will you increase your happiness this year?