One of the unexpected delights of being a parent is having a front row seat to seeing a child’s joy—whether it’s excitement at zoo, the experience of riding a train, or just getting a slushie on a summer day. “Most children have a huge capacity for joy,” said Maureen Healy, a child psychology expert and author of the book The Happiness Workbook For Kids. “Some children are born with challenges that make it difficult for them to experience joy, because of the environment or biological reasons, but most children are joyful.” As a parent, one of the struggles is finding a way to help your children retain their capacity for joy even as the difficulties of life get in the way.
Supportive relationships are essential
To help maintain your child’s capacity for joy, one essential component is helping them develop supportive relationships. “You need to have someone you can talk to,” Healy said. “For an adult, a supportive relationship is, ‘who would you call at two in the morning?’ It’s the same thing as a kid: ‘Who can you talk to when you are feeling bullied?’”
As Healy notes, children will often internalize the bad circumstances around them and think that it’s their own fault. “You need to have another supportive relationship,” Healy said, someone who can offer comfort and a different perspective, one which can help them recalibrate what is going on in their life.
Help your child lean into their strengths
Another component of helping your child retain their joy is helping them embrace their strengths and offer unconditional acceptance of their interests. “Developing their strengths is part of joy,” Healy said. “I’ve had parents who have said to me, ‘I have a guitar player, but I wanted a doctor.’ You want to do your best as an adult to unconditionally accept and encourage them.” One way to do that is by letting your child participate in making decisions about what they want to do or how they spend their time, such as choosing their own extracurricular activities—even if those activities are unusual or unexpected. “Allow your child to be a voice in participating and finding their joy,” Healy said.
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Set an example for getting through tough times
When the tough times hit, it’s important to set an example for your kids of what it looks like to get through them. As Healy suggests, it’s important to not always sugarcoat life’s challenges, but to be honest about the fact that sometimes life can be really hard and that there’s not always much that you can do about it other than persevere as best you can.
“Some days are lemons, and they’re just lemons; other days they are lemons and you can make lemonade,’” Healy said. “It’s not about rainbows and unicorns and being perfect, but about doing your best.”
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