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CLASS NOTES – A Happy New Year for the Kids

Trying to maintain happiness isn’t something new. Socrates attempted to define it, linking happiness to knowledge. Our Declaration of Independence gives us the right to pursue it and thousands of books have been written on how to obtain it, like, “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by the Dalai Lama and, “Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 Habits of Maximum Happiness” by David Leonhardt. We are obsessed with it, and it’s not a coincidence.

Researchers have found that happy people are more likely to have stronger immune systems, live longer, have better relationships, are more satisfied with work, have less depression and greater coping skills.

Seems like a no-brainer to encourage our children to be happy, but how? I have found that happy students directly correlate to my own happiness as a teacher, so I have tried very hard over the years to keep my class in high spirits. Here are three sure-fire ways that have worked in my classroom and may work for you at home.

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Praise

My teaching motto is “praise early and often.” I find if I give compliments generously and specifically, I have better management and many more smiles. Kids, even in middle school, adore gold stars for good behavior, happy face stickers on their homework and pats on their back for work well done. Many of my colleagues have adapted a similar creed, giving “two compliments for every criticism.” You may want to up that ratio.

I also praise everyday accomplishments as well as the exceptional ones and scaffold my praise depending on student’s demeanor and academic standing. For example, some students receive praise for doing extra credit; others receive a commendation for making it to class on time.

Role Model

There are days I don’t feel like cheerily welcoming my students, but I fake it. I fake it for their sake as well as my own. When I’m happy, my students are happier, and when I’m cranky, for whatever reason, class can become a management nightmare. Students quickly become unresponsive and/or disruptive. So, if you’ve had a miserable day, conjure up a wonderful memory, plaster on a smile and try to fake your way to a harmonious night with the kids.

Eat and Sleep Well

Sleep, proper nourishment and happiness are highly connected. I know if I’m hungry, nothing else matters. Making sure kids eat something for breakfast and go to bed at a decent hour will help them focus in school, which will lead to better grades, higher self-esteem and, you guessed it, more happiness.

Benjamin Franklin quipped, “The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”  Let this year’s resolution be catching some happiness and radiating it to the kids!

Contact Margaret Lavin at elementarydays@gmail.com.

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