Last Christmas, I was singing a carol when my oldest asked me what joy meant. The only thing I could think to tell them was that it meant happiness. It bothered me that I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it. It seems so simple and yet, describing feelings to a child can be difficult. So, I set out to not just tell my child the textbook definition but I would find activities that would create the feeling in them so that I could have them associate that positive feeling with joy.
- Drawing what gives them joy. This is a simple activity that doesn’t require much in the way of supplies. All that’s needed is a blank sheet of paper and something for the child to write with. I have found that crayons work best for this craft. I then ask my children to draw what makes them feel the happiest. When they have finished I ask them to tell me more about what they have drawn. I must note that I do not suggest that I can’t decipher their drawing on my own. It can cause children to feel embarrassed or frustrated if they aren’t very good at drawing certain things at this point.
- Make cupcakes. You have to use discernment here to determine in which way your children can assist in the process. Perhaps fairly young children should only frost the cupcakes or help by pouring pre-measured ingredients into the mixing bowl. As you’re making the cupcakes, or whatever sweet treat you would prefer, talk to them about how they are feeling. Are they excited and happy about the cupcakes getting done? That feeling is joy! It’ll take some patience working with your little one but it will definitely make for some really fun memories.
- Watch the movie Inside Out. This movie is very family friendly. No scary villains to shield your child’s eyes from. It also does a really great job of exploring a range of emotions beyond joy such as sadness and anger. Without giving too much away, the center of attention is the feeling of joy but the storyline also shows how all of the emotions work together to build more complex feelings. After the movie, talk to your little one about each character. Ask them when they may have felt those emotions and ask them what happened to make them feel better if the emotion was not a positive one. Feelings can be very confusing when you don’t have the language to describe them. Giving your child the words to communicate how they feel will help alleviate some of the added frustration they may feel when trying to convey their mood.
- Put on a puppet show. If your child doesn’t yet have the attention span to sit through a movie, try putting on a short puppet show to portray the meaning of joy. My go-to is to show one puppet helping the other. It demonstrates the joy people can inspire in others through cooperation and empathy. More often than not, my little one likes to grab at the puppets and put on their own little show for me. In these moments, I tell them that I feel joy that they want to perform for me. I let them know that my smile means that I feel happy and I thank them for doing something nice for me.
- Make special occasion cards. Have the little ones make cards out of construction paper. You can also have them use crayons or markers and safety scissors. These cards can be made for any reason or no real reason at all. Let the kids know that they are spreading joy when they design these cards with someone in mind. Tell them about how happy they are going to make the people who receive the cards. If you can, take your child to deliver the card in person do they can witness the smile on that person’s face. It’s especially impactful when it’s someone’s birthday but most especially when it’s Christmas time. During Christmas, we write cards to the North Pole in hopes of receiving a Package from Santa or a letter from Santa!
Teaching your child about joy and other emotions for that matter can seem daunting and difficult but it doesn’t have to be. Concepts such as feelings can most often be translated more accurately through having that child feel that emotion or by demonstrating it instead of using words. Your child will learn that interactions with outside influences can help foster different emotions. What better emotion than joy to start with? You’ll have a lot of fun laughing and crafting with your kids. Your kids will learn how to communicate their feelings with you.