Can joy be cultivated? And, if so, can we teach our kids to be more joyful in their lives? There are research based practices like gratitude, emotion coaching, compassion that bring true happiness. These are proven to be best prescriptions for ones’ wellbeing. But the question is that why do we need to teach kids to be joyful? Aren’t kids born happy?
Research points to the fact that some people are born happier than others. Interview of parents with two or more kids also support the same. Scientific evidence pinpoints to the fact that personality is controlled by the frontal lobes of the brain. The left side of the frontal lobe is more active when people feel happy. Whereas, the right side of the frontal lobe is more active when people feel sad. Thus, the trick is to take what nature has given your kid and nurture him for a lifetime of happiness. By coaching what stimulates the left prefrontal cortex you can encourage him/her to be happier. Similarly, by practicing what calms the activity in the right prefrontal cortex you can train him/her to reduce sadness.
The question comes back again about how to teach kids to be more joyful in their lives? How can one stimulate the left prefrontal cortex or calm down the right one? Here are the 5-tips:
1. Emotion coaching: Every human walks around with with a basket that is full of emotions. Emotions like happiness, sadness, embarassment, anger, fear, joy etc. Emotional turmoil directly affects our mood, thoughts and relationships. Importantly, emotions play a vital role in our overall well-being. Life is ironic as it takes sadness to know what happiness is. Anger to appreciate the state of calm and content. Thus all emotions are important. Research shows that children who understand their feelings and learn about their emotions are able to control the activity of their prefrontal cortex, and stay healthy. So how to coach emotions?
The first step is to identify feelings by giving them labels. “I hear you laughing, are you happy?” “You look sad. It is because you broke your toy car?” “Are you angry because mummy didn’t give you the ice-cream?” “Nita fell down, how do you think she feels?” Such labels can be practiced by talking, drawing different faces with emotions, or emotion crafts like emoji ping pong balls, balloons, picture books or flash cards.
You must also talk about your own feelings and how you express those feelings. “Remember yesterday when the water in the sink would not go down the drain? Mommy got so mad and do you remember what the face looked like? Can you make a mad face like Mommy’s? What do you do when you get mad? When I get mad I take a deep breath, count to three, and then try to think of the best way to deal with my problem.” The idea here is not to try to suppress the emotion labelling. But label it, acknowledge that emotion, and find out ways to deal with it!
Praise your kid when she tries to talk about his feelings instead of just reacting. It is important to let your kid know how proud you are of her for talking about feelings.
Finally, support your kid when she goes through emotional turmoil. I know of a friend’s kid who had hidden his school diary in their car dicky. He had received a diary note about bad behaviour at school. He was so scared to discuss that with parents that he told everyone that he lost his diary. Once found out, the parents couldnot believe that their kid was capable of such an act. I was worried about the emotional turmoil that the kid had gone through!
2. Letting them do things that they enjoy: When I look back at my childhood, I remember the endless time that I had spent with my friends. The unstructured games like hide-and-seek, kabaddi, play dates with dolls were the most enjoyable moments. I spent lots of time on art and crafts, reading story books, gave performances from school etc. We kids had time and support from family to explore things around, and also time to become bored. Then figure out how to overcome boredom. We had the time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream. Now-a-days, the focus is given more to academic achievements, and adult directed sports and other activities.
Recently, kids came up with the idea to celebrate halloween festival at our apartment. They divided themselves into age based groups, dressed up for the evening with with little support from parents, and visited the flats to play “treat or trick”. Parents were over impressed with their efforts. And they started the discussion to have an structured event next year! Where’s the liberty for kids? There is scientific evidence to adress the fact that unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves. It is thus very important to let kids do things that they enjoy. And coach them to be self responsible by inspiring them with real life examples. Once, they understand why academic performance is important, they themselves will allocate time for studies and other activities accordingly! I had a friend who used to watch a movie before exams, yet excell in academics.
3. Gratitude: It is very easy to teach gratitude to kids if started early. As the practice is to learn to thank, help, appreciate others, notice own blessings, know our gifts, and serve others. Gratitude could be as simple as having eyes to see, food to eat, and air to breathe; thankfulness for having good friends or it could be someone offering an umbrella when it rains.
We once took our kiddo to a facility that house abandoned kids with cerebral palsy. There were kids of all ages. Most were seated in wheel-chairs. Only few were able to walk without support. It brought tears to her eyes, and she thanked God for all the privileges that have been gifted to her as birth right.
4. Kindness: Kindess is a practice that fosters life long happiness. Kids are innocent, once we coach the skills we actually prepare them for life. I had organized a newspaper donation drive with kids. They visited all the apartments at our society, and requested for old newspapers. The idea was to collect fund by selling those. And use that towards welfare of our supporting staff. “What shall we buy?” There were many answers that ranged from mosquito repellants for security uncles, earthern pot for water, to winter jackets. I was amazed at their thought process. We made the selling process of newspapers fun by giving points to teams that guessed the right weight of a bunch picked up by the vendor uncle. Overall, the process was joyful for all of us!
5. Friendships: Studies have shown good friendships convey a range of health benefits. So learning how to make friends is a critical skill that can take people far in life. When kids are younger, experts say parents should create opportunities for them to socialize with kids who share common interests. This could mean signing them up for activities they enjoy, help set up play dates, and model teach kids about how to be good hosts to friends, and how friendships bring in joy. And model tips to nurture and value friendships.
Whenever we teach our children—and ourselves—to shine a light on the good and to rest our minds on uplifting moments, we are strengthening the ability to empathize with others, feel more connected, build resilience, and be inspired to make this a better world. And that makes for a more joyful life for all!