A friend recently shared some advice she heard from a speaker or parenting book or somewhere- sometimes you have to remind yourself to smile at your kids. I like that. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to smile at your child.
Uh-oh. All the goody two shoes parents are going to come at me with pitchforks. You should love your children and always want to smile at them. Untrue. You can love your children with every fiber of your being and still have days that it’s hard to remember to smile at them. When your child is being particularly sassy or argumentative- not super easy to just smile at them. When you are overwhelmed with your mom job, your work, current events- it’s hard to remember to smile.
But the simple act of smiling at our kids can make a difference on a hard day. It can make a difference on an easy day. It matters. So we should do more of it, even when we need reminders.
Will faking it ’til we make it work here? Researchers have actually studied the effect smiling has on your brain- real or fake smiles. A study done by the University of Kansas showed that smiles- fake or real- helped to lower heart rate levels after recovering from stressful activities.
Other researchers have studied mirror neurons- the way our brain copies what others do. When someone smiles at us, our mirror neurons tell us to smile back.
Scientists looked at what happens to our brains when someone smiles at us. Through MRI brain imaging, they saw that when someone smiles at you, it’s not just the visual perception areas of your brain that light up. Areas for limbic processing also lit up- this is where our brains process emotion and memory.
Scientists tell us that smiling benefits the smiler and the recipient. But some days it is just so darn hard to remember to smile at your kids. I said it. It’s hard. Motherhood is not all sunshine and daisies. Can we make it easier to just smile more often? You better believe I’ve got some simple behavior tools that can help with this.
- Habit stacking – Take an existing habit and stack a new one on top of it! In behavior terms, your existing habit becomes your discriminative stimulus for the new behavior- smiling at your kids!When you are doing something you do every day- like telling your kids to put on their shoes for the millionth time- add a smile. But wait- that’s a moment when you don’t normally feel like smiling! That’s the idea. Stack a smile. Or when you are cooking dinner and your child is around. Smile at them. Hold your boundary that you can’t stop what you’re doing and play with them right now- but you CAN smile at them. Make smiling a habit by stacking it on top of an existing habit.
- Reinforce yourself – Whenever we are trying to build up a new skill or behavior, we use reinforcement to strengthen that skill. So give yourself a high five whenever you remember to smile at your kids. For real- give yourself a high five. Try it right now. Did you smile at the absurdity or roll your eyes?
- Recruit your partner for accountability – Try telling your partner whenever you’ve done a good job of smiling more and having them be your reinforcer. Have them join you in this smiling challenge- more smiles all around!
Fake smiling is not a cure all for dealing with serious mental health issues or to mend a broken relationship in your home. It can be beneficial in short, isolated use. Fake a smile to help you turn things positive with your child on a hard day. Don’t fake a smile to hide from your true emotions and avoid reality. Long-term fake smiling means you need to find someone to help you deal with whatever is making it too hard to smile. Find a therapist near you. Reach out to me for a free parent coaching consult. There are resources to help you through. Use them.
And for all of us- I challenge each and every one of us to smile more this week!