Teaching Kids about Happiness

Teaching Kids about Happiness

18 July 2022 • Words by Samantha Weitzberg 2 mins

As adults, setting aside time to teach children about their emotions, including happiness, is an integral part of helping them develop their emotional vocabulary and resilience. When children are able to recognize and label their emotions, it not only provides them with greater insight into their emotional well-being but also a greater sense of self. There’s no one subject that teaches feelings. A wonderful way of building a child’s emotional intelligence is by taking advantage of teachable moments throughout the day. One of the greatest things that adults can model and teach children is that people are capable of feeling a multitude of things and that feelings are valued and validated. 

There are many ways to support a child’s understanding of their emotions and help them explore the language to describe and process them. Providing a welcoming environment for feelings without judgment can support young children learning to embrace joy with a greater capacity.

Set aside time for observation and discussion

According to James Baraz and Michele Lillyana, setting time for children to notice the good things in their life allows them to focus on what makes them happy rather than negative experiences. This practice has the potential to rewire their brains for joy and define what that unique joy looks like. In the classroom setting, this could include providing time for whole group instruction to share these observations. Discussion can also take place during small group instruction or as a “turn and talk” activity where students answer a question that helps them identify a feeling with a peer. 

As an early childhood teacher, I like to provide my students with various points of reference within the classroom space that talk about emotions. This includes a feelings chart and a time within our daily schedule to listen to guided audio (usually after recess).  My class has a set time on the schedule for an emotional check-in that builds up our emotional literacy. Through this engagement, there is an opportunity for self-expression, awareness, and connection to what factors lead to this emotion. For example, “I feel happy when…”. According to Lorea Martínez SEL within the classroom is almost if not more important than any other school subject. If your schedule does not allow for a specific SEL time, try incorporating a mindful activity following a major transition. Specifically, from a high level of activity such as physical education to a quiet, low-level activity core subject instruction.

Consider the use of a Moshi Moment

In the audio track, 5 Minutes to Happiness with ShiShi, ShiShi, a very cute moshling panda is able to use strategies to find joy. ShiShi uses her breath to imagine her worries floating away from her. With each inhale and exhalation, she guides her thoughts to reflect upon her own happy experiences. ShiShi also ties physical sensations to her joy like light and warmth.

The Conversation Guide for this audio provides several thoughtful questions on how to get students thinking about their own happiness. This discussion instructs students to become inquisitive and observant participants in their everyday experiences. The questions surrounding the physical body can support children in becoming attuned to how their bodies feel during different emotions. What can students learn about themselves by discussing ShiShi’s strategies to find her joy? This guide facilitates the discussion surrounding big emotions such as worry and joy. It also provides moments of reflection that can pinpoint when these strategies can be used. 

Samantha Weitzberg

Samantha Weitzberg, RYCT, RYT, is an early childhood teacher, yoga instructor, and mindfulness leader living in New York. She is also a first-time mom to a baby boy, but has been a puppy mom for a while.