Say Cheese!

What comes to mind when you hear “smile?” Is it a childhood memory of your grandmother trying to wrangle your family together for a picture at the family reunion? Is it the photographer trying to encourage you and your siblings to stop fighting long enough to get the perfect shot? Is it your boss trying to get the staff together for a picture for the company holiday card?

In each of these scenarios, the request to smile was to capture a snapshot in time. It was to encapsulate a moment that wasn’t fake exactly, but wasn’t real life necessarily either. What if we smiled for more than just photo ops? What if we used our smiles not only for selfies we post on social media, but as gifts to others? And what if we taught our kids to do the same?

Why Smile?

Smiling has health benefits.

There are many benefits of smiling for both the person smiling as well as the recipient of the smile. Research shows that smiling can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. Even when a smile is forced, it can boost serotonin levels in the brain. So when grandma, the photographer, or the boss was getting you to smile, it was actually benefiting you.

Smiling is also contagious – when we smile at others, they feel happy and often respond by smiling back. A large study with 11,000 participants found that facial expressions do impact others’ feelings. Taking the time to look someone in the eyes and smile, you will make them feel they matter. When you choose to smile, it can boost your mood, improve your physical health, and offer benefits to those around you.

The How To Guide

How does your child feel when smiling?

Talk to your child about what it’s like for them to smile. Is it easy to do? Is it awkward? Do they ever think about it? Kids all come into this world with their own little personalities. It is amazing to me that my own two children who are the same gender with the same parents have such different personalities. When they were young, one was very gregarious and outgoing and the other one stayed attached at my hip or hung onto my leg until she was five. But no matter their personality and preferences, everyone can offer a smile. Not all kids will find it easy to smile at other people, but it’s an important skill to develop.

How does your child feel when someone smiles at them? How do they feel when they smile? Practice smiling at home. Have them do a silly exercise of smiling in a really exaggerated way, then frowning in a really exaggerated way, then smiling once again. Have them hold their smiles and frowns for ten seconds and see what it’s like for them. They’ll notice it takes much less energy to smile than to frown. So what does that tell us? We should be smiling a lot more often than we should be frowning!

We can offer a smile and a greeting to many people. Even though times right now are strange and many of us are wearing masks, you can still tell when someone offers a hello and a smile. When a person truly smiles, it lights up their whole face. You can see the smile in their eyes. And when you receive a smile from someone else, it naturally makes you feel better.

So when you go out, look for as many people as possible to smile at and say hello. Maybe it’s a neighbor or the mailman. It could be a cashier at the coffee shop or the bus driver. And if you don’t go out, you can easily offer some smiles via video. How happy would your child’s grandma or uncle be to receive a video call along with a hello and a smile out of the blue? 

After you’ve intentionally taken some time to offer a smile at others whether that’s in person or over a video, talk to your child about what that was like. If your child is more introverted, it may have felt weird or awkward. If your child is naturally more outgoing, it may seem like no big deal. Either way, it’s worth exploring the experience with your child. What does your child think it meant to the people who received their smile? Did it have an impact? And even if not all the interactions were great, that’s still all right. An exercise like this is about creating self-awareness in your child and teaching him/her about the power of having a positive impact. 

Over time, offering a smile and a hello will be second nature to your child. It may seem like a lot of work at first, but the work and time you put into activities like this will pay off. The world needs positive people and one way to spot a positive person right away is to look for someone who is smiling. Beyond the needs of those in the world are the needs of your child. S/he will benefit from learning about feeling, interactions with others, and the impact s/he can have on others when choosing to do positive things. 

Working with your child on smiling will strengthen your relationship.

Finally, when you work with your child on interpersonal skills, you are strengthening your relationship. The value of a strong relationship cannot be underestimated. There will be tough times ahead as your child grows and changes, but if you have a strong foundation and if your child knows you are a caring person with good intentions, your relationship can weather those storms.

HAPPÉ Life offers free, fun missions for kids to practice these crucial interpersonal and self-awareness skills. The missions are short videos that introduce concepts like lifting others up and offering kind words. To sign up, click here: https://happe.life/mission-im-possible/

At H-A-P-P-Ē.Life we have created programs to support the continuous development of your psychological health and well-being. We are dedicated to helping you navigate life more fully and successfully through fun programs aimed at you and your child’s social, emotional, and mental health. The Mission I’m Possible series contains short videos designed to teach kids lessons about self-awareness and relationship development. They are enjoyable activities you can do together as a family that impart valuable skills. To sign up for the Mission I’m Possible series at no charge, click here.