Raising Kids of Character: Part 4, teaching JOY

Teaching Joy

ABOUT THE SERIES: This summer, I’m working on developing my kids’ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Each week, we’re focusing on a specific characteristic. Through this series, I’m giving you the books, discussion questions and action plans we’re using. This week: Teaching Joy

Up for debate: Whether choosing family-vacation week to teach my kids joy is brilliant … or insane.

The case for brilliant: If you can’t feel joy while experiencing one of the country’s best zoos, taking in the vistas of the Rocky Mountains and sliding down the largest sand dunes in the United States … well, there’s no hope for you.

The argument for insane: In the next two days alone, we will be driving precisely 999.5 miles. In total, the six of us and our Honda Pilot will travel 3,500 miles between now and the end of July.

That doesn’t exactly scream “Joy to the World.”

It’s for that very reason, though, that I chose this as our “joy” week: We have a lot of opportunities to not feel joyful this week. In many ways, this will be a challenging time as we navigate long hours in the car, construction zones, heavy traffic, the monotony of the Great Plains and roughly 3 million “Are We There Yets?”.

But you know how keeping a gratitude journal makes you feel more grateful?

I’m hoping that emphasizing joy this week will keep our hearts and minds on the reasons we take family vacations: quality time together, new experiences and, yes, moments of absolute wonder and joy.

The key to a joyful heart? Being mentally and emotionally present: Putting aside distractions … worries … cell phones.

So I’m putting that into practice this week: After I post this, I’m largely staying off the internet for the next seven days. Truthfully, the idea of that sounds like something from Dante’s Inferno.

But then I think … a full week of just hanging out with my husband, mother-in-law and kids, doing fun things and just basking in each other’s presence?

Joy, man. There it is.


“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” Psalm 9:1

Book Selections for Teaching Joy

All My Treasures: A Book of Joy (preK-K), by Jo Witek

Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems (PreK-early elementary), by Kate Coombs

Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy (elementary), by Bernadette Russell

Teaching Joy

Counting By 7s (upper elementary-middle school), by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stargirl (middle school), by Jerry Spinelli

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story (high school), by David Levithan

Think 4:8: 40 Days To a Joy-Filled Life For Teens (high school), by Tommy Newberry

Awakening Joy for Kids: A Hands-On Guide for Grown-Ups to Nourish Themselves and Raise Mindful, Happy Children (adult-led activities for kids), by James Baraz

Discussion Questions for Teaching Joy

How would you define or describe joy?

Is there a difference between joy and happiness?

What is the definition of joy? (Look up in dictionary.)

What fills your heart with joy? Are there any things that bring you joy? Why or why not? Is it the thing itself that brings you joy, or a person, experience of memory attached to it?

Describe your most-joyful moment, using all your five senses: What did you hear, see, taste, touch and smell? Why did you pick that moment?

Are there similarities between our moments of joy? What does that tell you about the root of joyfulness?

Teaching Joy

How do we use our understanding of the root of joyfulness, then, to bring joy to other people’s lives? How do we use that understanding to find joy in our own lives, every day, even in times of worry and stress?

Does finding the joy in everyday life change your perspective? Why?

Summarize your discussion: “So, when we ____________, we feel joy and we get ______________ .”

What are ways we can find and spread joy at home? at school? in our community?

Action Plans for Teaching Joy

(Here are some options in case you’re stuck. But I encourage you and your kids to pick your own. It’s more fun, and they’ll be way more engaged!)

“Our Book Of Joy: A Family Poetry and Poem Collection”: Every person lists at least five things, experiences or people that bring them joy. Then everyone writes a poem or piece of prose about each of those items. Illustrate with personal drawings or family photos and compile it into a book. What a wonderful family memento! (Also makes a great Christmas gift for grandparents!)

Sticky Joy: Get a pack of sticky notes. Have everyone write one joyful thing on each sticky note. Then hide them around the house. You can do an immediate scavenger hunt to find all sticky notes — shouting something like “I love____________!It brings me joy!” when you find one, or saying a prayer of gratitude for that thing. Or you can leave the notes where they are for the moment, and happily come upon little notes of joy as you go about your lives. (Yes, you’ll probably find one five years from now stuck between the pages of a random book. That’s not a bad thing!)

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