5 Steps in Teaching Your Child to Be Happy

Nearly everyone has heard the quote, “Happiness is contagious.” Maybe you sang along to Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” in the 1980’s. You’ve certainly learned that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights. What you may not have learned through these poetic expressions is that happiness is a work of art that doesn’t always come naturally.

Many therapy approaches address child and teen stress by helping kids develop coping skills for life’s challenges. And these interventions are often very effective for child anxiety, depression, and relationships issues. Positive psychology is an additional powerful technique to refocus child and teen thoughts on the good things in life.

Professor Christopher Peterson, of the University of Michigan, is a positive psychology and happiness expert who states that happiness comes from a mix of biology, environment, and intentions. However, Peterson affirms the notion that happiness is largely a learned behavior and that developing healthy patterns of thinking and focusing can generate more feelings of content, bliss, and positivity.

Shawn Anchor, M.A., author and researcher on happiness, describes steps toward developing positive thinking.  In his TEDx talk, Shawn tells us how we can adjust our brains to be happy.

5 Steps in Teaching Your Child to Be Happy:

  1. The Gratitude List-for 21 days in a row, write down three things that you are thankful for
  2. Journaling – write about one positive experience that you’ve had over the last 24 hours
  3. Exercising – sweat it out to release your natural endorphins
  4. Meditation – siestas teach the brain to return to baseline
  5. Performing random acts of kindness – you’ll feel good when you make efforts to make others feel good

Taking these steps every day retrains kid brains to scan for the positive first, before the negative. When we write about positive experiences, our brains get to re-experience that joy. Exercise tells our brain that our behavior matters. Meditation helps us escape the mental busyness and lets us focus on just one thing. Random acts of kindness just make us feel good.

When we practice positive psychology alongside our children and model it for them, the effects become even more powerful. By practicing these tools every day, teaching your child to be happy can be beneficial for the whole family.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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