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In Pursuit of Happiness: 5 Questions to Make Your Child Smile

Big transitions understandably lead to big emotions. 2020 has been a year of transitions unlike any other. There’s no need for me to list them; you’ve been living them, so you more than get it. To help turn those frowns upside down, here are five questions I’ve been asking my kids to help them focus on the positive, resist the meltdown, and remind them how secure they are in my love. As the beloved Mr. Rogers said, “At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It’s not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people that they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”

1. Can we play?

How often do you initiate play with your kids? I confess, I’m much more often the invited one than the one who invites. So I’ve decided to flip that habit on its head and surprise my kids with my unexpected attention! Sometimes we can get too comfortable in our relationships such that we forget how good it feels to be invited into something. Just like an invitation to lunch with a good friend or a date with your spouse makes you feel special, a playdate invitation from you to your kid makes him/her feel like the luckiest kid in the world. My firstborn was quickly followed by her brother and earlier this year she got a baby sister, so just having "one-on-one girl" time with me is a rarity for her. The other day, I asked if she wanted to play with me, just us, dress up and make up. For dress up, she asked me a couple years ago if I could find a princess dress to wear too, and lo and behold, I found this one and this one! As for make up, she knows our rules are 1) for mama: it's extra, not essential and 2) for her: she can only play with it in the house; she has to wash it off if we go anywhere. She jumped up and down and couldn't wait to become the artist. Daddy took pictures of his princesses in gowns (+1 princess in pajamas and a prince in swim shorts), and we twirled for the family. I think my daughter smiled twice as much because I didn't just play with her; I invited her to play with me.

I think my daughter smiled twice as much because I didn't just play with her; I invited her to play with me.

2. Can we make this an adventure?

Lewis and Clark aren’t the only American explorers who will go down in history. Add your and your kid’s names to the books! Do the toys in your house need cleaning up? How fast can you and your kid do it? Who can put away the most? Need to take the dog for a walk after school gets out? Make it a scavenger hunt (find something green, something rough, something smooth, something that grows in the ground, etc.) Bored in the car as you run errands? Play a version of “I spy,” rhyming words (you say a word, the kid has to rhyme it, and vice versa). Our kids love to dig for "buried treasure" - so we let them! We hide something in the dirt, sketch a map for them to follow, dress them in their wet suits (dirt washes off easily and doesn't stain), give them some explorer tools, and off they go with squeals of delight. Sometimes they just find gummies, and they're thrilled with that because it's not a regular occurrence in our house. They don't really care what they dig up; the American spirit for adventure is the treasure in itself! In short, inviting your kids on an adventure just means finding creative ways to make the ordinary extraordinary… or at minimum a little bit “extra”.

3. How much do I love you?

If you haven’t posed this question to them, they will have a ton of fun discovering ways to answer it. You might need to help them with some options: Do I love you this much (your hands held close together) or this much (your hands held far apart)? Do I love you 10 fish, 100 fish, or a google fish (It’s a great way to teach them the concept of 100 zeroes!) Do I love you as tiny as an ant or as large as an elephant? Do I love you the size of our house -- or the size of the Biltmore House? (We visited Asheville, NC this summer, and my kids learned it's the biggest house in America. That concept stuck!) You come up with units that mean something to your child, whether it’s LOL Dolls or Beyblades. The idea is that each time you ask the question you can come up with more and more answers to show them your limitless love for them, the love that is wider than sea to shining sea.

4. Do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream after dinner tonight? How about some sprinkles?

On a school night, there’s nothing like announcing that there will be dessert AND they have a choice of it. You’re doing your best to give your kids vitamins (see #4 on this list for my family’s favorites), fresh fruits and vegetables, and a good night’s sleep. So why not sprinkle in a little fun with ice cream… and red, white, and blue sprinkles! Sprinkles add cheer to anything. Sure, you can’t pull this move every night of the week, but your kids are up against a lot this fall. I highly recommend having some extra ice cream -- or an unbirthday cupcake mix -- along with some sprinkles in your arsenal if your kids need a little incentive to finish the day with a grin - a win’s a win!

5. How do I make you happy?

This question is one that can give you insight to how to reach your child. When you ask your child, “What are some of the things mommy or daddy says or does that make you feel happy?” you are giving them permission to share how they like to be loved. According to The 5 Love Languages of Loving Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively, we all have our preferred way of receiving love. The key to strong, growing relationships is learning how we can give love to others in such a way that they receive it best. For most kids, “quality time” is a big one, which may be communicated as “when you play with me.” But keep digging! Ask questions like, and “what is your favorite thing for us to play? Where do you have the most fun playing -- inside or outside? in what room?” Once you have the answer to this question, go back to Question #1 (smile).


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