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!

On Redefining Happiness…

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The Making Caring Common Project released some very interesting research last week, and if you haven’t seen it you should really take a look.  Titled “The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values”, the results of the survey eye-opening.  Bottom line:  You might think that you prioritize prosocial behaviors such as empathy, kindness, and being a caring person, but there’s a significant chance that what your child is internalizing is that you want her to be successful.  In fact, only 19% of the youth surveyed (from all over this country) picked “caring” as a priority for their parents.

I hear a lot about kids being “overindulged” or “not having enough responsibility” today.  But this isn’t about chores or too much designer clothing.  This about core values.  This is about the race to nowhere overwhelming our children.  They work hard to succeed in school, on the field, and just about everywhere else, until they pass out from exhaustion and do it all over again.  Kids are being pushed to succeed at all costs, and prosocial behavior and kind and caring character seem to top the lists of costs.

The good news is that it’s always a good time to work on character building.  We have the ability to send better, more positive, messages to our kids every single day.  But it has to start at home, and it has to be a daily effort.

  • Talk about what it means to demonstrate kind and caring behavior.
  • Learn about positive role models – both historical figures and people making a difference today.
  • Choose a family community service project to work on throughout the next year and see it through.
  • Use kind and caring language in your home.
  • Build each other up every single day.  Bad days happen, but there is always something good to highlight (no matter how small).
  • Eat meals together as much as possible and talk as a family.
  • Encourage expression of emotions and teach your children how to cope with negative emotions.
  • Three words:  Family game night.
  • Put down the technology and connect on a human level.  We are moving too fast and glossing over the good stuff.  Reconnect as much as possible.  Model healthy use of technology for your kids and be the kind of parent who isn’t afraid to set limits.
  • Be empathic.  Every.  Single.  Day.

There are endless ways to model and teach kindness and caring and I would love to hear all of yours.  I would also love to have you stop by The Huffington Post to check out “7 Ways to Redefine Happiness and Raise Kind and Caring Kids”.

See you there!

On being kind

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My husband is one of the good ones.  I could gush about him for hours and label absolutely everything that I love about him, but the thing that I love the most is that he’s kind.

He knows when to listen.  He knows when to hug.  He knows when to challenge.  He knows all of this because he is kind.  He takes the time to think of those around him before he speaks.

He holds the door.  He helps me with my coat.  He even throws a hat at me when I’m running out the door on a chilly morning – not at all dressed for the weather.  He does all of that because he’s kind.

People often ask me how to talk to their kids about bullying.  How should they explain it?  Should they actually use the word “bully”? Should they tell their kids to defend themselves or to yell for help?

There are advocacy groups all over the place working hard to put an end to bullying.  They raise awareness.  They share statistics.  Some of them even have “tool boxes” available.  I love that people are working around the clock to stop the cycle of bullying that takes the lives of our children.

But I despise that such a task exists.

The truth is that it shouldn’t be this hard.  By no means should bullying be an epidemic.  If parents would simply choose to teach kindness, the violence and hatred would cease to exist.  It’s simple, isn’t it?

I’m over at moonfrye today with my thoughts on kindness.  Please join me over there – and then sit down with your kids and talk about kindness…because kindness counts.

Hosting a leprechaun

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Riley loves holidays, so the minute Valentine’s Day ended…we moved on to St. Patrick’s Day.  We talked about four leaf clovers, our Irish roots, and what that pot of gold really contains (she guessed happiness – love her).  But when she began peppering me with questions about leprechauns I realized that I didn’t really have any good answers at all.

So we did a little research.  I am now officially fascinated by leprechauns and on a mission to correct their somewhat bad reputations.  While they are known to enjoy an occasional practical joke, they are definitely not as mean as some might have us believe.  They simply don’t like to be tricked by humans.  Is that so wrong?

Anyway, by the end of our exhaustive research I came to the following conclusion:  Leprechauns make a good metaphor.  When you treat leprechauns with trickery and teasing, they trick and tease you back.  When you treat leprechauns with kindness, they return the favor.

Riley and I decided to treat the leprechauns with kindness and attempt to host a leprechaun of our very own.  And you can read all about it on moonfrye.

See you there!

P.s. Cute and easy craft included.  Enjoy!