Being a 'fun' kid is more than just about, well, having fun, writes family and parenting expert Justin Coulson. They’re also building skills that will lead to better relationships.
Before I start, I have to be clear: I don’t have a favourite. I have six kids and love them all. But… I have one daughter who, of all my children, is just fun. She not only excels at having fun but she’s also exceptionally fun to be with. She’s always made friends easily and well at school, in the neighbourhood, and even on the playground when she was little. People just love her.
What makes her fun? She’s optimistic about the future. She’s easy going and relaxed, while still being firm on who she is. She has a beautiful smile (and it’s always on). And she has a fantastic attitude. When something happens that she doesn’t like she puts on a funny voice and says, ‘It eeeeees, what it eeeeees!’ (It is what it is!) And that just sums up how she lives her life!
The thing is, I’ve always known that my daughter would have a great life because of her incredible attitude. But I’ve never thought about the actual benefits of being fun. And there’s never been much research done on the value of ‘being fun’. After all, what is ‘fun’?
Well, it turns out that whether or not your child is fun matters. A lot.
Why being fun matters
It turns out that being and having fun is more than just… well, fun! In fact, it’s a really important part of establishing our children’s social status. Studies show that ‘fun kids’, those who were considered ‘fun to be with’ by their peers, were also more popular and likeable. And the more their popularity and likeability increases, the higher their social status as well.
When we talk about popularity and social status we’re talking about how much others want to spend time with you, and how much they respect you. But we aren’t talking about popularity that’s defined by status (our visibility, influence or fame) (the Paris Hilton’s of the world) which puts us at risk for depression, anxiety, addictions, and relationship problems.
Social status matters too
Why does this matter? Research shows that social status is a predictor of cognitive and socio-emotional development (which is the ability to manage emotions and establish positive and rewarding relationships with others). So, those kids that are laughing, playing and generally having a good time on the playground, are building skills that will lead to better relationships with peers and leaders. Plus they also have higher emotional wellbeing and even higher IQs.
So, while we certainly don’t want to push ‘popularity’ as the ultimate goal, being fun to be with is a valuable focus.
What makes a fun kid?
What are the characteristics of those kids that are fun to be with? Well, the 10-year-study covered that as well. Fun is whatever other kids think it is.
Before you shout, that’s not helpful! All you have to do is ask your children, ‘Who do you think is fun?’ I imagine they’ll be a lot like my daughter. They’ll be the kids laughing, smiling, joking around, and looking at life with an optimistic lens.
How to help your child be ‘fun’
Sometimes our kids need a little help being fun. But luckily that’s something we can help them with. If, that is, we can be fun ourselves. Or perhaps… light.
From peek-a-boo when they’re babies to shooting hoops when they’re teens, it doesn’t matter what the play is… as long as you are having fun and enjoying it together.
Encourage them to try new things
Learning to ride a skateboard, starting an after-school job as a dog walker or even trying a new recipe with mum or dad’s help, trying new things is an excellent way to have some fun. It also develops resilience and gives our kids a sense of accomplishment and independence.
Smile and laugh
Fun kids model fun parents. So, as parents let’s lighten up a little where we can. Tell jokes. Sing off-key. Dance around the kitchen. Have family traditions that make everyone feel good. And smile and laugh more.
Focus on glass half full
Kids who see the ‘cans’ and not the ‘cant’s’ are more fun to be around. When things go wrong these children look for the good, rather than dwell on the bad. And they’re much more fun in situations that aren’t always perfect.
Fantasise about the future
Fantasy is a fantastic way to have fun together. One mum I know tells imagination stories to her children every night. Sometimes they visit ‘lolly land’ or imagine what rides they’d go on at Disneyland. With older kids you might talk about what they’d love to do in a gap year. Using their imaginations inspires a fun-focused mentality.
Most of all, focus on what fun feels like and seek it. Encourage your children to seek it. And be it! You have probably noticed that you love being around fun people. Your children do too. And if we want to have rich, delightful friendships, we should find ways to be more fun ourselves.
About Dr Justin Coulson
This blog is reproduced with permission and originally appeared at happyfamilies.com.au
Struggling with his own family relationships, Justin returned to full-time study in his late twenties where he earned first class honours and a subsequent PhD in Psychology so that he could learn how to be a better husband and father.
Since then he has written multiple peer-reviewed journal articles and scholarly book chapters, as well as several books and ebooks about parenting.
You can watch a webinar Justin presented for The Parents Website, Guiding your children sensitively through tough times