Positive psychology has been proving it for years – positive experiences don’t just make us feel good in the present, they also transform lives. You’re more likely to live longer if you feel good. At least that’s what one study found. A group of researchers analyzed the handwritten autobiographies of 180 nuns aged between 75 and 95. The nuns had written the autobiographies while in their 20s. The researchers found that the nuns who had reported the most positive experiences (instances of happiness, interest, love, and hope) lived up to 10 years longer than those who reported negative experiences.
Evidence suggests that positive emotions foster creativity, increase focus and attention, make it easier to process information, boost resilience, foster optimism, improve cognitive abilities, and broaden critical thinking skills. Barbara Fredrickson, the positive psychology researcher, suggests that positive emotions can build your kid’s physical, intellectual, psychological, and social resources. Your kid draws on these resources later during difficult moments. In other words, positive emotions can act as a buffer during difficult times.
So, feeling good is good for your kid, but how can you help him feel good? Positive psychology offers a few suggestions:
1 | Cultivate joy, over and over again
Joy has frequently been associated with playfulness. In his book “The Emotions,” Nico Henri Frijda speaks of “free activation” as the action most associated with joy. He associates joy with a child’s readiness to seek things to play and to enjoy. Barbara Fredrickson’s shares the same view. She considers that play encompasses physical, social, intellectual, and artistic play, and thus involves a wide variety of activities such as the possibility to explore and discover, invent, or just simply fool around.
There is now evidence that play has an impact on social, intellectual, and psychological outcomes. It promotes skills acquisition and fosters the development of physical and cognitive skills. The skills your kid develops provides him with durable resources he can use in hard times.
What can you do?
- Provide your kid with opportunities to play every day.
- Provide your kid with opportunities to engage in unstructured but stimulating play. Your kid is more likely to develop better problem-solving skills and also have more creative freedom when he engages in less structured play.
- Allow your kid to have “stand-and-stare time.” He will benefit much by simply observing the world around him.
2 | Don’t force your kid to take those music lessons
Your kid will build positive emotions if she engages in activities that interest her. If your kid is interested in an activity, she is also more likely to be more curious, persistent, and excited.
What can you do?
- Focus on what your kid likes rather than what you think is “right” for her. Observing the things she is attentive to or those to which she seems attracted to can help you identify her strengths.
- Work around her strengths. If your kid is competitive but doesn’t like doing math, for instance, proposing math exercises with an added competitive element (for example timing how long she’ll take to finish a multiplication table) can help build interest.
- When it comes to effective ways to motivate kids, some methods work better than others. Remember that your kid is more likely to be motivated by activities that offer challenges and that take into account what she already knows how to do.
3 | Start a gratitude routine
Helpful compassionate acts don’t just benefit other people, they also benefit us. We feel better when we help others. Gratitude makes people nicer to be around and it also leads to physical and psychological well-being.
In one study, researchers found that people who kept a gratitude journal in which they listed up to five small or big things for which they were grateful over one week were more attentive, determined, energetic, enthusiastic, excited, interested, joyful, and strong.
What can you do?
- Teaching your kid to practice gratitude does more than help him fill his “bucket of positive emotions.” It can also help your family bond. When family members show their appreciation for each other, they are more likely to become what science refers to as “strong families.”
- Staring a simple routine such as “thankful Tuesday” where each family member expresses the things for which they are grateful can help kids develop a grateful disposition.
4 | Strengthen your kid’s emotion regulation skills
Even toddlers behavior is driven by emotions. These emotions have an impact on their social, psychological and intellectual development. When we teach kids about emotions using age-appropriate strategies, we help give them the tools to manage those emotions.
What can you do?
- Make use of everyday opportunities to talk to your kid about emotions. Appropriate games can be a fun way to teach your kid to identify and manage emotions.
- Remember that it is easier to help your kid identify the triggers and deal with emotions before he or she goes into meltdown. There is evidence that if chosen and used appropriately, essential oils can be a natural and effective way to calm kids’ anxiety and hyperactivity.
- Knowing about emotions is in itself insufficient. Your kid needs to know how he can deal with strong emotions by himself.
Ultimately, your kid is more likely to develop positive emotions when he is raised in a warm and responsive family in which he feels loved and appreciated.
Check out The Emotions Kit if you’re interested in developing your kid’s emotional intelligence using effective age-appropriate strategies.
An earlier version of this post was published on parent.com