Every cranky kid could use a happy jar! In fact, what kid — or parent, for that matter — couldn’t use one from time to time? And they’re fun and simple to make. All you need is a transparent container, colorful pieces of paper, something to write or draw with, and some happy thoughts!
Whenever your child gets tangled in negativity (and your go-to happy-boosting methods aren’t doing the trick — i.e., tickling, tummy zerberts, and lectures on the psychological benefits of maintaining a positive mental outlook) break out the handy happy jar!
Tips for Optimal Happy Jar Performance
Get the family involved. Work on your happy jar together, brainstorming on all things that make your child happy. And together draw and write down those “happy-isms” on the fun pieces of paper.
Make it dynamic! When your child needs to dip into the happy jar, try acting out as many happy-isms as possible. For instance, if he or she selects “piggy-back rides” from the jar, go for it (your back willing). If your child loves music and dancing like mine, why talk about it when the kid can shake those cranky wiggles out? (You may have to get things started. You should see me dancing to Usher when my daughter pulls him from the jar — in the photo there; apparently, Usher makes her happy.)
Happy activity, as opposed to happy thoughts, brings the positive feelings to life and gives them more power over the negative ones.
Keep it fresh. Add new happy-isms to the jar on a regular basis to keep the kids excited about the jar and eager to come back. I like to sneak them in like little surprises, as well as encourage my daughter to come up with new things that make her happy or things she’s grateful for. (The sneaky surprises are a big hit, though.)
Warning! Careful the kids don’t fake negativity for happy jar time (true story). Make it clear that they can use it whenever they want, even when they’re already feeling good!
Get your own! Consider encouraging each family member to make their own happy jar. The moodier the person, the bigger the jar. Yeah! (Who would have the biggest jar in your family?)
They make great gifts! When it comes to handmade gifts from grown-ups strapped for cash, this is a winner! A pre-filled happy jar makes a thoughtful gift for a loved one — “all the ways you make me happy” — aww.
The best part about the happy jar for kids is that if used consistently, it can work. To watch my daughter go from brooding to giggling and dancing and normalize afterward is more than I expected, to be honest. (Granted, it’s not a magic jar; it’s not meant to replace treatment for depression, mood or personality disorders, or medication, etc. Always consult your medical and/or behavioral health professional when applicable.)
In addition to being effective, the happy jar is a fun, personalized family activity. It’s a project that creates extra quality time and can make an immediate and accumulative difference. Plus it reinforces a core concept that is not easy to teach young kids: focusing on the positive over the negative can produce a healthier, happier life.