Finding the Joy

Finding the Joy

Education January 10, 2022 / By Joanne Foster, EdD
Finding the Joy

Here are several strategies to help your child find joy—even when it may seem elusive.

By providing a dependable environment, and modeling effective coping skills and good problem-solving attitudes, you can go a long way toward helping your child respond effectively to adversity and acquire the emotional resilience they’ll need…” ~ Being Smart about Gifted Learning, p. 271

As families embark upon 2022—with resolve, trepidation, optimism, or something else altogether—Covid continues to influence people’s lives. It might be increasingly difficult for children to manage their feelings.

However, parents can help kids understand and learn to cope with their emotions—now and going forward.

Children’s outward behaviors offer important clues about what they’re feeling inside, and how they’re experiencing their world. Mona Delahooke writes about this at length in her informative book Beyond Behaviors, and in her exciting upcoming publication Brain-Body Parenting. Learning to regulate emotions is an ongoing process. It helps immensely if parents respect their child’s feelings, but it’s also vital to understand the source and magnitude of those feelings to be able to respond in a caring and attentive manner.


A child facing difficulty may be disappointed (or angry, or upset or…). They may not ask for help or consolation—so there can be an interval from when feelings set in to when they’re finally reconciled. Parents who recognize that their child is having a rough time can offer them reassurance, creative outlets, comfort, and coping strategies. Here are some suggestions:

  • ALLOW TIME TO DECOMPRESS. A period of crying, stillness, stomping, venting, or even pillow-punching can be cathartic. Deep breathing, stretching, squeezing a stress ball, playing with “pop-its,” and closing eyes and visualizing serenity, can also be beneficial. (Katie Hurley’s new book, The Stress-Buster Workbook for Kids, is loaded with helpful strategies for building distress tolerance and coping skills. Suggestions include a feelings check-in board, progressive muscle relaxation, a seven-point grounding exercise, and imagining a full plate of gratitude.) A child may need a way to express pent-up feelings, and a chance to reflect and think of how to reconcile or get over or around obstacles. To that end, family members can be creative when considering how to support one another. One approach is to spend time doing pleasant activities together—such as playing original games; having a unique photo, baking, or karaoke contest; finding new opportunities to be kind to others; or getting fresh air and exercise. (For more ideas, see these three articles: Parenting for Creativity; Embracing Uncertainty, and Nurturing Children’s Creative Wellness During Covid-19.)
  • COMMUNICATE AND GUIDE. Listen. Chat with kids. Parents can reveal how they deal with disappointing situations, stay calm, regulate their own mash of emotions, and tap into joy. Perhaps they use coping mechanisms such as connecting with others, decelerating, or being resourceful. Parents can talk about different possibilities to mitigate circumstances, and also offer fresh and informed insights about how life may be unfolding, and how to prepare. The best way forward involves respectful, empathetic dialogue—while still giving children enough space unto themselves. In the article Tenacity parents will find tips to support kids and help them move forward “vigorously, proactively, and sensibly.” And, take a look at Michele Borba’s book Thrivers, wherein she discusses strategies for nurturing children’s confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism.
  • CHANGE FOCUS. Consider how to help children look toward something positive. Changing one’s perspective can be enabling. To that end, emphasize pleasures, point out upcoming fun (such as holidays or festivities), demonstrate a “growth mindset” (overcoming challenge using effort and step-by-step strategies), or comment on a child’s specific strengths (perhaps their honesty or thoughtfulness). Author Hurley suggests making positive thought chains or creating “I Can” stickies. And why not try going outside and enjoying nature? Check out my articles Taking a Walk on the Bright Side and The Nature of Creativity: Calling All Children! for suggestions that are good starting points to help kids transition from negativity to positivity.
  • CONVEY RELATABLE MESSAGES. The adage, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade” reflects the notion of going from sour to sweet. Even young children can grasp sayings like that. Music can also be really uplifting, and many song lyrics convey powerful messages about discovering joy. For example, “Put on a Happy Face” (by Charles Strouse], “Tomorrow” (by Alicia Morton), and one of my favorite songs, “What a Wonderful World” (by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss). Stories are full of gems, too. Look for tales from different times and cultures, and quotes that punctuate important ideas. For instance, these relevant statements are from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh: “When life throws you a rainy day, play in the puddles.” And, “The sun still shines, even when it’s hiding.” What helpful sayings, lyrics, or quotes can you and your children think of or find together?
  • BE THERE. Availability means being present and attentive. Here are fifteen suggestions that can be personalized by parents in support of children who are having trouble with challenge or change:
    • Pay heartfelt attention to what your child has to say.
    • Value their thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
    • Don't judge.
    • Be gentle.
    • Stay calm.
    • Show your chid that you believe in possibilities, hope, joy, and adaptability.
    • Answer questions.
    • Share ways of managing BIG feelings, little ones, and in-betweens.
    • Encourage.
    • Be compassionate.
    • Reassure.
    • Smile. Laugh when the time is right. (Cry when you need to.)
    • Be safe together.
    • Cherish.
    • Hug.


Children benefit from connectivity that is attuned to their particular needs, and that is supportive of their particular challenges.” ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p.55

Feelings such as disappointment, frustration, or worry may be fleeting or relatively short-lived (like with a reimagined occasion or family excursion), or more impactful (as might occur with serious illness or major disruptions). As children begin to move on from such circumstances, continue to reinforce their progress, and help them learn to spot tendrils of joy in the twists and turns of everyday life. Honor their feelings, and encourage their creativity as they problem-solve and discover the satisfaction therein. Help them realize and accept that although hurtles are inevitable, they are not insurmountable. Today children will learn to prevail and gain confidence (hooray!)—and tomorrow will be a brand-new day.


This piece contains some excerpts from my article From Disappointment to Joy in the October 2020 issue of First Time Parent Magazine (published during a previous wave of the Covid pandemic). The strategies continue to be relevant NOW, and applicable to children of all ages.


Dr. Foster’s newest book is Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews). For additional information, check out ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, productivity, and learning, go to (Covid-related material is marked with a red asterisk.)

Being Smart about Gifted Learning provides up-to-date perspectives so that parents, grandparents, and teachers have current knowledge about how to support the development of giftedness, creativity, and talent in the children and teens in their lives. Dr. Dona Matthews and Dr. Joanne Foster address pressing questions and concerns, and share hundreds of resources in this third edition of their award-winning book. The authors focus on helping families find a healthy balance that will nurture children’s exceptional abilities, optimal development, and well-being. Being Smart about Gifted Learning can be ordered here at Gifted Unlimited LLC. (Coming fall, 2021.)

“This tremendous book describes how gifted education resources can be applied to nurturing talent broadly and inclusively across the population. The Optimal Match approach demystifies understandings of giftedness, and brings common sense to conceptions of meaningful learning at home, school, and elsewhere.”

~ Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., Columbia University

This book will prompt re-examination of many long-held beliefs!”

~ Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Stanford University

“Matthews and Foster highlight the importance of an appropriate education for gifted and talented students with the concept of an optimal match between students and their learning environments…The ideas in this book represent an important conceptual framing that will help gifted and talented programs serve broader and more diverse populations of students.”

~ Frank Worrell, Ph.D., U C Berkeley, American Psychology Association President-Elect, 2022.

“Drs. Matthews and Foster have given us a comprehensive, intelligently designed and brilliantly crafted book written with extraordinary understanding and compassion.

~ Felice Kaufmann, Ph.D., U.S. Presidential Scholar

“Rich with examples, this book highlights the importance of an optimal match between challenging and engaging school and home experiences, and opportunities to develop gifts and talents! A practical, thoughtful contribution by two leading experts!”

~ Sally M. Reis, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

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