Mom smiling and talking to child sitting on kitchen counter. Connected parenting.

Tip for Thriving: Just Smile

“One of the most healing gifts we can offer our child is the twinkle in our eye.” – Kelli Wild, LCSW

Many years ago I noticed a quality that I admired about a dear friend. 

She was quick to smile. 

This was not in a contrived or disingenuous way.  She sincerely enjoyed people and had a welcoming, loving demeanor – and so, she just smiled easily.

I decided I wanted to work on that.  I wouldn’t say I was prone to a “sour puss” (as my mom used to call it).  However, I was sure my personality type lent to erring on the side of taking life and my “to do lists” a bit too seriously.

I was determined to up my smiling game – an outward sign of my inward desire to be more fully present and to enjoy the gift of the people in my life, especially my husband and children.   

I became more aware of slowing down, turning towards them and putting my whole face into it (a real smile includes your eyes).  When they were excited, I tried to pause and fully share in their excitement.  I wasn’t always perfect, but I made progress.

When someone smiles at us in a genuine manner, it communicates warmth and affection.

Mirror neurons light up in our brain, and we tend to smile back.  These same neurons are why researchers believe when one person yawns it triggers a yawn response in someone who sees him. 

When an infant has adequate care and nurturance, that loving caregiver is holding her with warmth, looking into her eyes, smiling – and delighting in baby’s smile back.  There is a dance of closeness, communication,  and connection that is helping baby’s brain develop and wire appropriately. This brain development assists the child in learning how to read facial expressions and interpret the meaning behind them correctly.

If your child came from a hard place, there is a chance he did not have this experience, or at best it was inconsistent.  You may see evidence of this when your child doesn’t seem to interpret facial expressions well – often misreading signals and responding in a manner that doesn’t
“match” the situation, or perhaps showing facial expressions that do not seem aligned with his emotions. 

You can help your child’s brain rewire – start by playfully offering a gentle smile – or even playing “mirror” where you go back and forth copying one another’s facial expressions as if one of you is the mirror the other is looking into.

So today’s tip is pretty simple –  smile more often at your child:).

You may have to start out with some effort, but soon it will become more natural.

If you are in a cycle of struggle with your child, when you first see him – perhaps after school or when picking him up from daycare – do your best to greet him with a genuine smile.  Discussing challenges that have occurred that day can sometimes wait until later.  Make it your first priority to connect.

Your smile will represent a brave step towards setting the tone you want in your family and home.  It will help you.  It will help your child.

Our children need us to delight in WHO they are – even when things don’t appear so delightful on the outside.   

Regarding those behaviors that are showing up on the outside, remind yourself, “we’re working on that. “

Walking with you,

Kelli