The Role of Joy in Child Development
As a kid, stepping on to the playground felt like the whole world was at your feet. Nothing could go wrong as you wove through slides, swings and spring riders, playing with other kids at the playground. This feeling of childhood joy is hard to explain, but it plays an optimal role in child development. Joy is a monumental tool for promoting brain health in children. It is the feeling when you can’t help but smile during a wedding, while adopting a new pet or taking a bite into the best cupcake you’ve ever had.
You can teach kids how to experience joy, but first, you have to master it yourself.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- The Benefits of Joy for Children
- Five Ways to Explain and Spark Joy in Kids
- Spark Child Joy at a Miracle® Recreation Playground
The Benefits of Joy for Children
Joy is a powerful antidote to stress. Stress, although healthy in certain amounts, has potentially negative effects during child development. Kids experience the pressures of stress if they feel like they don’t fit in with their peers or don’t take the time to relax or play after a long day of learning. You can increase kids’ well-being by supplying the tools to combat stress and promote joy. We’ll get into the ways you can do this, but first, let’s discuss the benefits of joy for kids:
1. Joy Reduces Anxiety
While it may seem obvious, joy brings relief from anxiety. Ongoing stressful events trigger feelings of anxiety, especially if those feelings go untreated. You may notice stress or anxiety in a child if they exhibit signs like:
- Mood swings
- Acting out
- Fluctuating sleep patterns
- Overreacting to minor problems
- Changes in academic performance
It is normal for kids to have occasional moments of anxiety, like when they are playing on the playground alone for the first time. When you notice kids experiencing extended anxiety or stress, joy can potentially lessen these anxious feelings. Many kids experience reduced symptoms of anxiety by laughing and enjoying positive emotions.
2. Joy Boosts Learning Ability
Ongoing stress weakens a child’s developing brain, leading to difficulties learning, erratic behavior and impaired physical and mental health. When children are calm and happy, they are in the optimal state of mind for taking in new information.
Your brain communicates across different areas of neural connections. New connections form throughout the entirety of your life, but the neural developments made during early childhood determine a strong or weak foundation for these adult connections to thrive. In simpler terms, when exposed to too much stress, kids have a harder time learning and performing throughout their childhood and into adulthood. But, when exposed to joy, they can efficiently take in new information and develop a skill set that will help them later in life.
3. Joy Encourages Children to Try New Things
When children feel happy, they are more likely to step out of their comfort zone and open themselves up to new experiences.
Kids enter self-protection mode when they feel anxious or stressed. Meeting new kids on the playground or building the courage to climb the rock wall proves challenging when preoccupied with thinking of the stressful events going on in their life. For example, if a kid is struggling to fit in at school, that anxiety may transfer to the playground.
Break down these roadblocks by giving the child the tools to overcome and redirect these negative thoughts to more joyful ones. Encourage them to get out of their comfort zone. The more they do, the more confidence they’ll have tackling larger obstacles in the future — like finding a friend in the classroom.
Five Ways to Explain and Spark Joy in Kids
Because joy can be a complex emotion, learning how to teach joy to preschoolers can be challenging. The best way to explain this feeling is by sparking it in their own lives and redirecting their attention to joyful connections and away from stressful triggers. You can explain joy to a child by:
1. Finding Joy in Your Own Life
Kids are extremely receptive to their environment. If you’re feeling stressed, they will pick up on those feelings and mirror them in their own behavior. Treat yourself with the same kindness you want them to give themselves, like:
- Talking openly about your experiences, both positive and negative.
- Slowing down to fully experience your surrounding environment.
- Resolving problems confidently.
You can’t teach something you don’t fully understand yourself. By sparking joy in your own life and learning from those experiences, you can more easily spark joy in your child’s life.
2. Creating a Joyful Home
Just as kids mirror surrounding behavior, they’re directly influenced by their home environment. Integrate joy in your home by:
- Starting family traditions: Make family traditions that you can practice year-round. Before eating dinner, have family members go around the table and share what they’re thankful for. Or, start a happiness jar where family members can write down an experience that made them happy and share them at the end of the week.
- Putting meaning behind household tasks: Find joy in routine household chores like doing the laundry or cleaning dishes by putting meaning behind these tasks, like reminding yourself how thankful you are for having clean clothes and dishes.
- Counting your blessings: Restructure your mind to be thankful for your blessings instead of worrying about something absent from your life.
Practicing gratitude is shown to increase happiness and joy in kids. Surrounding kids with these joyous home practices make it easier for them to reshape their internal thoughts and processes.
3. Redirecting Their Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts can easily spiral into stress and anxiety. Avoid this emotional spiraling by focusing on positive thoughts and bubbling up joy. For example, if they’re thinking about the stack of homework they have to complete, redirect their thoughts to the fun they get to have at the playground after finishing.
Pivot their negative thoughts to what they’re appreciative for right now. Give them a few seconds to register these joyous, appreciative feelings. Through continued practice, they’ll start redirecting their thoughts themselves and gain the confidence to face once stressful situations.
4. Managing Your Child’s Time and Responsibilities
Kids experience the world differently than adults do. The world is much bigger and full of daily learning experiences, which can be exhausting without taking the time to relax and recharge. If you notice your child is beginning to complain about activities or extracurriculars, open a line of communication and ask them why they feel that way.
Odds are, they’re feeling overwhelmed with busy schedules. Schedule times in your child’s daily routine to enjoy being a kid. Let them curl up on the couch with a good book, explore the backyard or play at the neighborhood playground.
5. Relishing the Joy of the Outdoors
- Soaking in vitamin D
- Understanding how to work with other people
- Exercising through active play
- Learning how to take risks
- Appreciating nature
The opportunities for outdoor play are endless. Schedule an outdoor play date for your child, start a garden, walk to school or find a local playground to experience these joyous mood-boosting benefits.
Spark Child Joy at a Miracle® Recreation Playground
Playgrounds are innovative worlds where kids can partake in imaginative play, make new friends and release any stress they may be holding on to. As a trusted leader in the playground industry, we are committed to providing a safe environment where kids can develop the tools and skills to make the most of their childhood development.