Helping Children Feel Happy by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller
The following is an excerpt from Rebbetzin Heller’s newly-released book Balancing Act
How do we instill a sense of simchas hachaim in our children?
Young children exude natural joie de vivre. What happens as the years progress? The travails of life wear people down. Age brings illness and a steady weakening of the body. But these are not the only reasons. Children see everything as chiddush. Genuine simchah is retaining that sense of fresh wonder.
Appalling statistics show that one in ten college students admits to entertaining thoughts of suicide. One in five high-school students reports the same. The problem is really twofold. We have no idea what contentment is, and we have very little gratitude. Our goal should be to help our children preserve their natural happiness and develop a sense of gratefulness. We must also teach them to appreciate the beauty of the moment.
Eternal vs. Temporary Pleasures: With children age 3 to 6, show them how to differentiate between what is temporary and what is eternal. For example, you can say, “That was a great ice cream, but most likely you won’t remember it by tomorrow. Look at what a beautiful card you made for Aunt Celia. I’m sure she’ll cherish it forever.”
Gratitude: Hashem created us with a feeling of lack. Nobody has simchah unless he feels grateful. Teach your children gratitude by pointing out the wonders and complexity of Hashem’s creation. Talk about how rain is life giving. You can say, “Look how beautiful the rain is. Soon everything will be green again. Isn’t it amazing?” Be sure to say this. Otherwise their natural reaction will probably be, “Oh, it’s raining again. It’s so boring being stuck in the house.”
The Joy of Doing Mitzvos: Cleaning up for Shabbos shouldn’t be drudgery. Be enthusiastic. Explain how it’s all in honor of Shabbos. It’s like making the Beis HaMikdash ready for the King. Help your children appreciate the wholesome goodness of life. Show them that you believe in them.
Imagination: Fantasy is a good way to build up simchas hachaim. Play imagination games. Playing “House” and being the mommy with “tons of babies” will satisfy a very young child. Being a heroine or hero is the logical progression as children get older. Not all children will let you into their fantasy lives. If you are able to gain entrance into that magic kingdom, use it in a way in which they will grow. Nurture a feeling of gratitude for who they are and what they are part of.
Everything’s a Gift: In life, the more you have, the more you want. In order to be happy, you have to learn to roll with the punches and look for the positive aspects in all of life’s experiences. Teach your child to see everything as a gift and as part of a larger, more significant picture. You can nurture happiness by praising common everyday things and making ordinary life attractive. Appreciating the love in a close relationship and sensing the good Hashem gives us is the core of simchah.
Achievement: Feelings of achievement make children happy. Your responsibility as a parent is to find your child’s point of excellence and provide opportunities for him to use his talents and abilities. Let your child express himself through song, art, and drama.
Acts of Kindness: Set things up so your child can be a giver. Children love doing chessed. Let them be the ones to put the tzedakah in the pushke. Tell them where the money will go and how it will help poor families buy food and necessities. Toys and sweets will give them transient joy, but spiritual simchah is eternal.
The Joy of Serving Hashem: Train your children to revel in doing mitzvos. People sometimes confuse simchah shel mitzvah with the mitzvah itself. You have to see that the actual mitzvah brings your children joy. Tell stories of tzaddikim that illustrate this point. Teach children to enjoy the experience of connection and spiritual bliss. They may not understand it intellectually, but they will sense it emotionally. Your child should feel happy to be a Jew.
Connection to Parents: Connection brings simchah. Children need to be held and spoken to. Today many women work out of the home and do not have as much time. However, at least when you are there with your children, be there fully for them. Give them your complete attention. Talk to them and really listen to what they say. Spend time with each child alone. Go for a walk or for coffee or an ice cream. Just the two of you being together will make your child feel special.
Notice the Details: Children from age 6 to 10 can comprehend a lot more. Teach them gratitude by pointing out the details of things they receive both from Hashem and from people. For example, you can say, “Look what a beautiful wallet Aunt Ruthie bought you. It has such intricate stitching. She must have gone to several stores to find it, and it looks very expensive.” This makes the wallet a lot more special.
The Wonders of Nature: There are good books about the glory of Hashem’s world available. If you have a child who is curious, look at them together. You can admire the details of the pictures together with him and discuss the wonders of nature. You can then point out how much Hashem cares about us and how He tailor-made this world for us to enjoy.
Remember Harder Times: Almost all children can appreciate the goodness of having when there’s a possibility of not having. Tell stories of tzaddikim and discuss the hardships people had to endure years ago. Contrast the mode of travel once used and the smooth, comfortable transportation systems we have today. Talk about Rivka and the well and how good it is to have running water in our homes.
Be a Giver: Achievement brings simchah. At this age the pleasure of giving can be much more sophisticated. Depending on what the child enjoys doing, create opportunities for him or her to do chessed. Have them be your shluchei mitzvah. Let them stuff envelopes, deliver tzedakah, or pack food packages for the needy. Let them see how they made a difference by telling them what they did. For example, you can say, “It was so kind of you to bring our guest a glass of water.” Don’t tell them who they are. Talk about their actions, which is much more credible.
Reproduced from THE BALANCING ACT, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.