I hear people say it fairly regularly, but recent research from the University of California San Diego proves it, happiness is contagious. The study cites that if parents, playmates, and classmates of a child are happy, that child is more likely to be happy too.
It’s difficult to ignore the fact that we live in a stressful society. As much as we try to shield our kids from the everyday stress that we face, they pick up on signs of stress. Many preschoolers can read facial cues and will react to what they see. A faraway look might result in the question, “Mommy, why are you sad?” A deep sigh might lead to, “Mommy, are you mad at me?”
Preschoolers are like mini-detectives. They listen in on conversations, watch our every move, pay attention to voice tone, and stare at our faces for cues. They might be playing with their toys, but they want to know what’s happening in our worlds too.
So how do we focus on spreading happiness?
Finding our own inner happiness is a good place to start. It’s impossible to have a great day every single day, but it is possible to focus on small moments of happiness. When the day seems to be going downhill around here, I find an activity that makes us all happy. Sometimes it’s a dance party, sometimes it’s a baking project, and sometimes it’s family yoga, but often it’s heading outside for some fresh air and a worm hunt. I would never have predicted that worms would come to bring such a great sense of joy to my daily life, but the look on their faces when they lift a rock and find a worm can cure any case of the blues.
Schedule happy playgroups. I have a couple of girlfriends who always bring a huge smile to my face. One of my friends has one daughter who is just days younger than mine, and another who is just days older than my son. The kids always play beautifully together, allowing my girlfriend and I to sit and chat and laugh together. These are always my favorite play dates. The kids are happy, and it is contagious.
Praise happy play. It’s easy to get caught up in the race to educate, but the main job of toddlers and preschoolers is to have fun. Instead of focusing on what your kids are doing, try to make an effort to praise them for playing and having fun. It sounds somewhat ridiculous, I know. But kids in this age group respond well to praise. Praising their efforts cues them to repeat that behavior. Why not praise fun time and show our kids how important it is to laugh and be silly? The ability to reframe a negative situation and make it a positive one is a skill that will take your child right through adulthood. It starts with play.
Try a new playground. The combination of fresh air and new faces can really make for a fun morning (or afternoon). Just yesterday I took my kids to a park we hadn’t been to in a while. They met some new kids, enjoyed the different play equipment, and didn’t stop smiling the entire time we were there. Happy kids do make other kids happy! I also had the pleasure of meeting a really nice mom and we had a great conversation. Moms can spread the happy too.
Get a treat. When all else fails, head out for a special treat. To my parent’s credit, they always seemed to know just when an ice cream cone was necessary. Head out for ice cream or for some other special treat and enjoy the resulting smiles. Sometimes you just need a little pick-me-up to find your happy place. I can’t think of time that a little mint chocolate chip didn’t make my day better!
Happiness is contagious. It used to be just a line parents used to try to make kids smile, but now we know that it is, in fact, true. So find your happiest friends, the best parks, and toys that are more fun than educational, and spread a little joy today!
How do you turn things around to make sure your kids are happy?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/ and can also be found on Twitter.