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Growing Up Happy

A day that starts with a smile is a happy one. Here are Alexia Barrable and Jenny Barnett’s tips for smiling at home to boost your kids’ day. And if you really don’t feel like smiling, it’s probably worth faking it from time to time. It may well make you feel better, and at the worst you’ll be helping children to become more skillful readers of their social world.


happy children

Surrounded by smiles


Taking advantage of the research that suggests that even looking at smiley pictures can help us be more smiley and lift our moods, albeit fleetingly, I make a decision to add more portraits to our collection of pictures. It takes significant effort to find enough traditional smiley photos of the family as we so rarely get round to having prints made, but then I realise that some of our favourite family pictures are linked to this weird tradition that we have. We don’t visit shopping malls often, but when we do go to one of the ones close to us we have set up a tradition that we take a photo in the photo booth that they have there. The pictures now span several years from when Duncan and I were a carefree couple, to the arrival of Joe and then Oliver, as well as some extra strips with much-loved family members and friends (we take our guests to the booth too). It is a wonderful collection and the pictures are all truly happiness-capturing. They are mostly of smiley faces, but also some silly faces too. I catch myself smiling at these pictures every time I see them, so I decide to put them somewhere prominent and share them with the kids often. On the fridge they go!


A ritual of happy thoughts


As I find myself more and more aware of when I smile (and when I don’t) I realise that a lot of the time my smiles are not only connected to what is happening in the moment, but are also linked to happy memories. I take the thought a little further: there are things, actions and phrases that I associate with people I love: my dad’s habit of drinking his coffee with a biscuit, my mum’s way of washing her hands and splashing her face when it’s hot, my grandmother’s love for ice-cream cones and even Joe’s loud ‘click!’ when I buckle his seatbelt. Thoughts of my loved ones pop into my head every time I do any of the above actions: have a coffee or an ice-cream cone, or buckle my own seatbelt, whether these people are there or not. The thought of them unfailingly puts a smile on my face. It is not difficult to share these thoughts with my kids, in the hope that they too associate an action with a loved one. It is easy and ends up being lots of fun. It is also a way for me to share with my kids family traditions and stories that would otherwise be lost for ever. ‘This is the way Grandad used to drink his coffee’ I say, dunking a biscuit into my drink and giving an exaggerated ‘Mmmm’. Joe soon starts dipping his own rusk into his milk and saying ‘Grandad!’ It’s like an inside joke, a family story and it always brings a smile to my face. Every time we have an ice-cream cone we share the same story of my grandmother, whom the kids will never meet, and her awe at the wonders of science that could produce such engineering feats as ice-cream cones. (My grandma really thought ice-cream cones were the pinnacle of food technology and commented on it every time she had one.) It is a great way to smile, share family stories and create our very own family traditions. I wonder what my kids will say about me one day!


Tech it up


Smilefy your mobile phone: pick a picture of a loved one with a smile on their face and make it your screensaver on your mobile phone. Every time you look to see if there’s a message, or even just look at the time, you should get a boost of happiness! On some phones you can go further and add pictures to your closest contacts – I have a lovely picture of my husband and youngest son set up so every time he calls they appear, all smiles. Choose a joke app and put it on your mobile or tablet. You will get the joke of the day automatically to your device every morning and you can share a laugh with the whole family!