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Keeping the Joy in Childhood

by Pam Schiller, Ph.D. | February 7, 2011 | Child Development

By Dr. Pam Schiller

Joy: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires

Joy belongs to all of us. It is the cornerstone of living fully. In today’s fast-paced, hurry-up world, it is easy to lose joy without meaning to — it is easy to rob our children of their joy. As our responsibilities and burdens grow as parents, it seems like time moves more quickly and we have to move faster. This often causes us to fail children in two regards:

  • We push them to move faster with us — and to grow up faster. We are the only country that expects 5-year-olds to read. In other countries, the expectation is age 7. We push our children into technology thinking that it will accelerate their learning, but instead it hampers other areas of development, such as their social-emotional development and gross motor skills, which they will need for learning.
  • We fail to take the time to investigate what is appropriate for them. If no one else complains about the homework your kindergarten child brings home then it must be OK, right? If all the other kids spend their time with computer games then that must be appropriate, right?

Childhood is a time of incubation, a time of acclimation, a time of leisure, a time to watch and learn, and a time to be free of pressure. Childhood is designed by nature to be a time free from stress and pressure. Children need time to simply absorb their surroundings. A four-year-old has only been around for 48 months — that’s not long when it comes to learning how to navigate our complex world.

Young children’s brains are wiring important aspects of development during the first few years of life. They need to be physically active, learning to interact with peers, solving child-sized problems, developing self-control, and exploring language. These activities require an attentive adult and they do not involve technology. Make the time to keep the joy in childhood.

Ways to nurture joy
Here are a few easy ways to nurture joy:

  1. Model being joyful.
  2. Smile. A smile is contagious. Smiling changes the mood in a room — it makes things happier. Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers, and serotonin in the brain. Together these make us feel good.
  3. Hug children. A hug can be a show of affection, support and even consolation. Everyone needs hugs to make it through the day. Famous family therapist Virginia Satir says: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
  4. Be fully present. Find a time period each day that you can put away your “must get this done” list and be completely attentive to your child or the children in your care.
  5. Eat together as a family. Discuss family events. Talk about your day. Ask children: “What was the best part of your day?” Share a child-size joke.
  6. Avoid rushing. Get up earlier if mornings are rushed. Start early and be organized if you are getting children to events. They move slowly, so instead of making everyone frustrated, just plan accordingly.
  7. Sing. Singing is joyful. It is the universal language of joy. Sing in the car. Sing as you work. Make up spontaneous songs.
  8. Teach children how to relieve stress. Run, exercise, stretch, breathe deeply, sit quietly and watch the sunrise or sunset.
  9. Dance! Be spontaneous. Make up a going-to-bed dance or a celebration dance for an achievement.
  10. Spend time outdoors. Take a walk or go to the park. Children love to be outdoors. They need active play to develop physically, and outdoor play equipment and games are often an effective source for developing problem-solving skills.
  11. Look and listen for joy around you and share your observations with children. Watch a baby playing patty-cake or birds bathing in a rain puddle. Observe a cat playing with a piece of yarn. Join a group of children on the playground. Enjoy the aroma of freshly baked cookies. Watch raindrops dance down a windowpane. Listen for laughter.