As parents, we want our kids to do well in school, behave, and turn into decent human beings. But, perhaps more than anything, we also want them to find happiness. It’s true that some form of this can be found inside candy wrappers and at the bottom of soda cans but raising a truly happy child involves much more. And, of course, it’s well worth the effort – a happy child is a kind and confident child. Lay the foundation for joy and watch everything else fall into place.
So, how to raise a happy child? How do you put a smile on your child’s face short of grabbing a Magic Marker and forcibly drawing one? Start by embracing the following:
Let Your Child Take the Lead:
It can be hard, amid busy lives and jam-packed schedules, to put down the smartphone or turn off the computer but make a point to do it. Give your child the power to decide what they want to do. Engaging in face-to-face time doesn’t need to be time-consuming; start small with only a few minutes a day. You just might find that chasing grasshoppers or building Legos is addicting. And soon you’ll want to do it more.
Don’t Shield Them from Adversity:
While parents innately want to protect their children from failure, doing so handcuffs their ability to develop resilience in a flawed world with flawed people. Thus, rather than letting your inner mama bear bust out with claws drawn at the tiniest hint that something is amiss, give your child space to work their own problems out. If they’re having conflict with a friend, for instance, provide space for them to find resolution. But don’t disappear entirely – instead of hovering, stand firmly planted on the middle ground.
Praise Them, But Don’t Get Carried Away:
When it comes to adoration, there’s a fine line between raising a child and raising a narcissist. Too much praise can cause the latter, leaving you with a child whose favorite hobby is to stare at the mirror. But praising the wrong things can also cause issues. If you only praise a result (such as acing a test) rather than the effort (such as studying for the test), you might turn your child into a perfectionist who feels as though they’ll never measure up. Another thing to remember is that effort is in your child’s control whereas other things (such as innate intelligence or athleticism) is based on your child playing the hand they’re dealt. When you praise what they can control, you leave them empowered.
Ditch the Criticism:
Criticizing your child can backfire – getting attention from you, even negative attention, may be what they want. Too much criticism can also leave your child self-conscious and struggling with self-esteem. That’s why it’s important to bite your tongue when your child does something wrong. In other words, if you want a behavior to stop, ignore it and it’ll go away. If it doesn’t, then calmly tell your child exactly why their behavior is not appropriate. And, if you have more than one child, refrain from comparing them to each other. Remember, each kid is an individual with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s important that children understand what they, and only they, can offer.
If self-help books and mindfulness blogs have taught us anything, it’s that gratitude is an ingredient in the recipe of happiness. People who find gratitude see their lives as fuller and more rewarding. For children, their gratitude is often limited to iPads and the newest Transformer. So, help them think outside the toy box and encourage them to focus on things that are not material. If they’re resistant, get creative – ask them to think of three things they’re thankful for as they get ready for bed.
Don’t Nix the Negatives:
Having been children ourselves, once upon a time, we all know the lengths parents go to hide the scary truth from their children. While you don’t need to expose your kids to everything – maybe pass on letting them watch the new Ted Bundy documentary on Netflix – don’t nix the negative entirely. If you only tell the story about how you were a straight A student in high school while leaving out the part where you got cut from the volleyball team, you give your kids the false idea that life is free of obstacles. Being honest about adversity allows them to prepare for their own challenges they’ll undoubtedly face.
Get by With a Little Help from Your Friends:
A happy childhood is a childhood that includes others. In fact, the friendships we make as children often stay with us for life. If they’re not popping up on our Facebook feeds, they’re – at the very least – sitting in the VIP section of our memories. If you want your child to value friendship, model that you value it too. And this means making time for your pals. Study after study proves that those with tight social circles live longer, so cultivating these connections not only helps you live forever, but it helps your child do it too.
Embrace the Great Outdoors:
In a world that has grown increasingly more technological, it can be hard to unplug and go outside. But outdoor play is essential to happiness. From riding bikes to skinning a knee while climbing a tree, from swing sets to makeshift forts, nature nurtures so make a point to get your kids out of the house daily. As an added bonus, outdoor play also enhances social skills by increasing empathy, engagement, and self-control.
Reduce Screen Time:
Yes, your child is screaming inside as they see you reading this! But too much screen time isn’t good for your child (no matter what they say). This isn’t to imply you need to eliminate it completely, but – remember the old saying – “everything in moderation.”
Moderate Your Expectations:
It’s good to have high expectations of your child – high expectations encourage your child to work harder and keep trying even when they want to quit. Still, take care to make sure your expectations don’t get too lofty. If they’re unrealistic, your child will lose interest in even attempting to meet them.
Throwing caution to the wind and sleeping past the alarm or binge-watching TV instead of doing chores might provide moments of joy for your child. Yet, overtime, a lack of discipline only hurts. A study in the Journal of Personality found that those with higher self-control had higher levels of happiness. But they were also better at avoiding situations where that self-control might have been tempted. To help your child follow suit, try putting sugary foods on higher shelves and healthier ones within reach, designating a place for them to put their iPad until homework is done, or encouraging them not to turn on the TV until they’re completely ready for school.
Dole out Chores:
In a perfect parenting world, our children would gleefully mop the kitchen floor before mixing us a Mai Tai and rubbing our feet. In reality, a few chores will do your child much good. It’s so important that, in studies, assigning chores was one of the biggest predictors of long-term success. Why? Because chores teach children many values, including responsibility, community service, accomplishment, connection, and being part of a family. They’re also boring, which shows children that they can engage in a mundane task and live to tell about it!
It’s difficult not to want to give our children the world but buying your kiddo anything they want doesn’t translate to happiness. Instead, it’s more likely to lead to discontent. The reason for this lies in the inability for children who get everything they want to differentiate between wants and needs, leaving them to tie happiness to material items. Thus, rather than buying them everything they set their eyes on, give them the chance to earn it. And focus more on experiences than things. Remember, memories trump mementos.
They say that the family that plays together, stays together. We’re going to extend this “play” to include playing soccer, playing tennis, playing ping pong, and playing flag football. Exercising as a family leads to more happiness for everyone involved. It can also foster bonds and create memories.
One of the easiest ways to be happy is to help others find happiness too. Being kind or helpful to their fellow peers (or adults) can make your child feel a sense of joy. There are all sorts of ways to do this, including challenging your child to go out of their way for another person each day, asking them to pick out the toys they want to donate, or hosting a bake sale that benefits the local community.
Listen to Them:
Chances are you don’t like to be ignored. You probably don’t like it when your problems are minimized, either. Kids are no different! If you want your child to develop happiness, then hear them out, accept them, validate them, and give them your undivided attention when they speak to you. Refrain from minimizing their pain, no matter how small the issue may seem. If your child complains about getting their feelings hurt by a classmate, for instance, don’t simply tell them to calm down. Instead, try something like, “I can understand why you’re so upset.” Children need to know that you get it and that you are on their side – it’s a crucial foundation of happiness.
Kids who follow routines often feel in control and satisfied. Routines are also proven to stimulate both the left (logical) and right (emotional) sides of the brain. Rituals like family meals and bath and bedtime routines help children feel secure, strengthen family ties, and lead to greater productivity and happiness.
Give Them Space to Pace:
In a world where we tend to start thinking about college admission when our children are still in diapers, it’s not surprising that the average kid is over scheduled. Rather than focusing on “play-date this” and “tumbling class that,” give your kids space to have free time and explore the beauty that is childhood. And, while you should certainly take the time to play with your child, resist the urge to do it constantly; this isn’t good for them or you! Self-play allows the child to learn creativity and tap into their innate gifts. And it allows you a chance to drink your coffee in peace!
Never underestimate the power of touch! When it comes to establishing bonds, a gentle hand provides a helping hand and more! Whether you cuddle up in the middle of a snowy day on the living room floor or every Saturday morning, make time to be present with each other. It turns out that doing nothing at all translates into doing a lot.
Promote a Healthy Body Image:
Girls are usually the ones unhappy with their weight, but boys are also affected by what’s circulated. Modern media has taught all of us the importance of being thin, a message that children hear loud and clear way too young. Since society isn’t going to promote a healthy body image, it’s up to parents. A few ways to do this include discussing the health benefits of exercise rather than the way it makes you look, downplaying appearance and emphasizing character, working out as a family, and not saying negative things about your own looks in front of your children. You should also avoid sharing feelings of guilt because you ate an extra cookie. Instead, be proud that you managed to snag two cookies in a sea of grabbing, tiny hands.
Lead researchers have pegged forgiveness as one of the keys to happiness (with unforgiveness festering as unease and restlessness). Forgiveness allows us to turn bad feelings into happy ones, which leads to more joy. The best way to teach your children to forgive is to model it yourself. Refrain from holding grudges and make an effort to resolve fights or arguments. And, when you’re wrong, apologize.
“Glass half full” people are undoubtedly happier than “glass half empty” folks because of their unyielding and undying optimism. A few ways to propel positivity in your children include not complaining, not gossiping, focusing on positive language, seeing the good in others, and not making molehills into mountains. Maintaining positivity yourself goes a long way as well.
Nurture Your Happiness:
Children learn most from watching others. In fact, they’re like sponges, absorbing what we do and even how we feel. So, if you want your child to be happy, strive for happiness within yourself. Engage in self-care, spend time in nature, laugh, hang out with friends, and remove yourself from toxic relationships and toxic work environments.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that children don’t need to be bursting with joy at all hours of the day to be happy kids. Childhood comes with plenty of giggles but also plenty of tears and that’s okay. The bad feelings are necessary and vital to raising a persistent, resilient, and empathetic human being. Let them experience these emotions and show them how to manage them (that will make them happy too!).
Finally, love them. If “hurt people, hurt people” then loved ones do the opposite. Show your child that they’re loved even when they’re threatening to throw their chocolate milk across the middle of Red Robin and you’ll set the stage for their happily ever after.