How to Inspire Your Kids to Spread Happiness

happybubbles

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!

Want Happy Kids? Teach Forgiveness.

forgiveness

Forgiveness.

Chances are you’ve talked to your kids about forgiveness at some point. You’ve probably asked one child to forgive the other child for an unkind gesture or unfair treatment of some kind. You’ve probably talked about moving on, letting go, and getting over it. But have you actually taught your kids how to practice forgiveness?

Forgiveness is an essential life skill. It doesn’t get the attention it deserves, if you ask me. There are plenty of adults in this world who don’t practice the art of forgiveness in their lives. They might say they do. They might rely on clichés and phrases that speak to forgiveness, but do they actually take the time to forgive? Do they actually work through the feelings that serve as roadblocks to forgiveness and get to the other side?

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of a heated discussion when suddenly past issues enter the conversation? What begins as something seemingly minor can morph into an emotionally exhausting conversation filled with repressed anger and resentment that creeps out when tension spikes. These are the moments that speak to lack of forgiveness skills. These are the moments that cause hurt and sometimes irreparable damage to otherwise close relationships.

I’ve mediated these conversations in my office, and I’ve seen them in my own life at times. When people are unable to practice forgiveness, they carry with them feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment so strong that they struggle to maintain perspective. They have difficulty truly relating to and building close relationships with others when they struggle to forgive.

The benefits of learning to forgive are many. According the Mayo Clinic, forgiving people enjoy healthier relationships, less stress and anxiety, higher self-esteem, better immune functioning, and fewer symptoms of depression (to name a few). People who struggle to forgive, however, are more likely to become depressed or anxious, bring bitterness and anger to new relationships, and struggle to enjoy the present (among other things).

When it comes to raising happy kids, we need to consider the importance of teaching kids how to practice forgiveness. It isn’t just about a simple apology followed by acceptance. Forgiveness takes time and work.

Happiness is not the complete absence of stress; happiness is being able to work through stress, obstacles, and negative emotions and come out with a feeling of inner peace and a positive outlook. That’s a powerful lesson for little kids, and one that will help them for years to come.

So how do we teach kids to practice forgiveness? The obvious answer, of course, is that we practice forgiveness in our own lives. That is important. We need to use the words, talk about our feelings, and share our stories of forgiveness. When our children apologize to us, we need to forgive them out loud. When we’ve made a mistake, we need to own it and apologize and talk about forgiveness within the family. But it doesn’t stop there. Kids need to learn how to get from “I’m sorry” to “I forgive you” without glossing over the hard part in the middle.

Unpack feelings:

Kids are often put in the position of forgiving others without much discussion about what happened. Repressed feelings are a significant roadblock to true forgiveness. When we stuff our feelings, we give those feelings time to grow in size before they finally explode. They will explode at some point. They always do.

Kids need to understand that it’s perfectly normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, jealousy, and sadness when someone hurts our feelings. They need to express those feelings in a healthy manner. They need a trusted adult who can listen (not fix) and empathize. Kids need to work through their feelings before they can forgive.

Recognize their role:

I always tell my clients, particularly the ones with endless stories about being wronged, that even if you’re pretty sure that something is 99% the fault of someone else, there’s always that 1% out there waiting to be claimed. I have this same conversation with my kids, as well. Yes, your brother got frustrated and stormed off because you didn’t agree on a game to play, but what did your voice sound like when you shot down all of his ideas? Could his feelings have been hurt by criticism and voice tone?

When people argue or do things that hurt those close to them, big feelings are at play. Chances are, things are said and done on both ends. We all need to learn how to take responsibility for our roles in relationship issues if we want to be able to forgive and move forward.

Let go of anger:

This can be a hard one for kids (and adults). Anger is a powerful emotion, and it does snowball fairly quickly. One minute you’re fuming over a sarcastic comment that left you feeling hurt and the next you’re thinking about every moment ever that resulted in that same feeling. I see this a lot with young children in my office. One hurt opens the door to past hurts, and it’s very difficult to move forward when overwhelmed by a lifetime of hurt feelings.

Kids need to learn how to let go of angry feelings. A simple exercise in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones (rewriting the script as we refer to it in my office) teaches kids to verbalize their angry thoughts and replace them with positive adaptive statements.

You can’t force others to forgive:

There are those who choose to be forgiving, and there are those who choose to live with anger and resentment. A hard but necessary lesson for kids is that we can’t force others to forgive us and enjoy a positive relationship just because that’s the choice we want to make.

Forgiveness is a skill and it’s also a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes the choices of others will leave us feeling sad and disappointed. Opening the door to forgiveness, even if another one closes in your face, gives kids an opportunity to live a happier, healthier life full of deep and meaningful relationships. That’s a choice worth making, even if someone else makes a different choice.

Get a HAPPY Start to 2014!

photo

Happy New Year, Practical friends!  We hope you enjoyed a wonderful holiday season are are ready to hit the ground playing in 2014!

We are snowed in here in Connecticut and loving every minute of it.  The kids are excited to finally see some snow that actually sticks around and head outside in the 10 degree (brrr!) weather to make snow angels and snowmen/snowgirls (obviously).

I kicked off the New Year over on The Huffington Post with some tips on setting some goals that will positively impact your kids.  This is the year of HAPPY KIDS!  Please stop over there to check out that article.

At some point I will have to get back to reality and finish writing The Happy Kid Handbook, but for now I’m off to throw a few snowballs!

Enjoy your weekend and may you have an easy transition back to reality…

Happy Kids on HuffPost Live!

Happy

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.

Pin It

Happy Moms, Happy Kids

photo-239

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!!!!

Pin It