Behaviour Modification: Helping Your Child Shift from Sad to Happy

Yesterday, Aristotle had a birthday party to attend. Since he was sick for two of the previous birthdays he was invited to from his friends at school, I thought he would be delighted that he could finally go to one. To top it off, it was held in Yu Kids Island and he’s always pestering to go to a jungle gym. So it was much to my surprise that all he wanted to do when we got there was sulk in a corner. He was miserable and teary and he didn’t want to be part of the party. He kept insisting he wanted to go home and that he couldn’t wait for the party to be over so he could leave.

Both Daddy and I took turns trying to talk him around – without much success. I was about to leave him be and ignore him when I remembered that behaviour modification trick I read about in Psychology Today. So I brought him to a quiet corner and had a talk to him about attitudes. I told him he could choose to be happy or he could choose to be sad. It was a choice and it was his to make. He could either focus on the fact that he didn’t like being at the birthday party and be miserable, or he could focus on the fact that he had the opportunity to play at a jungle gym (which he loves) and be happy.

Then I sent him back to the playground and said I needed him to do one thing for me – play on the playground and pretend to enjoy himself so I could take some photos of him on my phone. I told him he had to smile or he would ruin my pictures. I made him bounce up and down on the bubble trampoline and encouraged him to jump higher and higher. By the time I was done with our little “photoshoot”, he was smiling in spite of himself and I could see he was coming around.

To save his pride, he told me, “I’m not enjoying myself, I’m just pretending to.” Although it was clearly evident that this was no show, I agreed and told him that was all I expected of him. And the rest of the party went really well – well mostly.

So now I have my very own example of how changing your body’s physiology (or rather your child’s) can really make a difference to the way he feels. It really works and it works really well. I’ll have to remember this one the next time we run into a similar situation again.

In a nutshell:

  1. Open your child to the idea that he controls how he feels and he can decide to be happy or sad.
  2. Get him involved in an activity that will alter his physiology in a positive way (e.g. jumping on the trampoline in this case).
  3. Get him to smile (or pretend to smile). It doesn’t matter if he insists he will still be sad. Let him think that. It will work regardless of what he thinks.
  4. Let him “save face” and agree if he tells you he’s still really sad but only pretending to have fun. You’re the parent, you’ll be able to see whether that is true or not.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

3 thoughts on “Behaviour Modification: Helping Your Child Shift from Sad to Happy

  1. I am very much agree to this approach….but would you also probe into finding why all of a sudden he sulked in the corner or do we parents always like to make assumption ourselves that the child must be happy to attend the part and that we forgot to tell him why he was in the party and that we forced him to the party but what he wanted was to just play in the gym? It is lucky that he is still a child and likely to change his behavior easily but what I am worry is WHY he’s so behaved….is there a reason ? Or is there just young child’s personality? I think he will tell you why.


  2. It was CNY’s Q&A sessions to young children by one company in a shopping mall in Ipoh. We all happened to be there. The gifts were the beautiful balloons with all sort of animal characters. V wanted it very much but was afraid to go on stage (to me, this was not her characters)…. then I clutched her hands and intended to walk around the mall, halfway through I probed gently, then she confessed to me with teary eyes her little secret: “I couldn’t speak Chinese fluently”…..OMG! there and then I clutched her hands back to the scene and told her she could answer all questions in English too, not just Chinese or Cantonese, and on hearing that, she walked up the stage with confidence and won herself a lovely turtle balloon…

    So that is why I think we must find out reasons.


    1. I’m afraid this has been his personality since he was very young. His first ever party at a jungle gym, he flipped out. He was 1 plus. He was fine at the start when he was free to do his own thing and explore the room on his own, but the moment the activities started and they started the music and circle time, etc., he went berserk and I couldn’t get him to stay. He has been getting better with age but he still has days like this. I guess I overestimated how well he was handling it…


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