Raising Happy Children
How many times have you heard a parent say “as long as he/she is happy” or “all I want is for them to be happy”? Of course, every parent wishes to see their child grow up to be a happy adult, but the things that we can do to enable them are not always so obvious!
We hear tonnes of advice about how to raise our children to be successful, while sometimes the specifics of happiness are left a little hazy. This is really a bit of a disservice, as research shows that happy people tend to be more successful than unhappy people in the realms of both work and love. It would seem that dialling in on this happiness concept is actually the best way to cover all our bases! Let’s have a look at cultivating some fantastic happiness skills in our youngsters, helping them to cultivate a positive outlook that will last them a lifetime.
Happiness Seeds From Habits
Imagine a roulette wheel spinning… To the untrained eye, what makes one person happy while another is not can seem like a game of chance. In fact, while there can be a genetic element that influences our sense of wellbeing, much of what makes a person truly happy is not chance at all but simply the habits established. Our habits define us! Changing a habit or learning a new one does require a little effort, but is certainly achievable. Choice, not chance, can make all the difference when it comes to happiness.
Leading By Example
Children are keen observers, and mimic the behaviour patterns of those around them; especially those they look up to. This means that if we haven’t already cultivated a strong happiness strategy in life, starting out now can be one of the best things we can do for our kids. If you feel that you are a generally happy person, take the time to identify the habits that make you that way and start increasing your repertoire. Exploring these concepts within yourself will make it much easier to impart good strategies to your children, plus you might find that you get happier too!
Long Term Happiness Over Instant Gratification
As we try to help our children navigate through the challenges of modern living, in a competitive consumer culture that impacts the young of today like no generation before them, developing a skill set for happiness has never been so important! Aim to educate your children on the difference between the giddy high they get when receiving a new toy or a bar of chocolate, instant gratification, and the deeper feeling of happiness that comes from playing a game with friends, enjoying being outdoors or the comfort of knowing that family are waiting at home.
A big part of this lesson is steering our perspective on the wonderful things we have. I love a simple exercise that can be done with children on gratitude. At the end of each day or week – whenever it fits with your family schedule – sit together and take turns listing ten things that you have experienced that you are truly grateful for. The rules are that the things you pick have to be whole experiences rather than just things, but can be as diverse as: being grateful for the view from the kitchen window, being grateful that your friend lent you a pencil in a test because you forgot yours, through to being grateful for seeing the haunted house at the amusement park!
Mastering Self Talk
Many of us have a negative habit of constantly showering ourselves with self-criticism. You know that voice; “I’m such an idiot!”, “I’m not good enough.”, “Ugh, I look awful today.” Psychologist Jonathan Haidt offered a fantastic analogy for the way that our brains function in the form of an elephant and its rider. He described our minds as the sum of two parts – our rational cognitive processing is represented by the rider and our instinctive and emotional processing by the elephant. The rider has a fantastic view into the distance and can make logical decisions, while the elephant has a limited view, is prone to overreacting, and possesses far greater power.
Haidt argued that these different parts of our mind are not as good at communicating as we might imagine, which is why when we absentmindedly self criticise, our “inner elephant” truly takes our negative narrations to heart. The impact of this has a surprisingly deep effect, but we can practice being aware of our negative self-talk, and proactively replace it with positive messages such as “I can do this.” and “I am worthy.” Try coming up with some positive examples of self-talk with your children, so they have a go-to vocabulary when self-doubt creeps in. Soothing that elephant will ensure a much more pleasant ride!
Developing Rituals To Manage Moods
When we try to teach our children about happiness it is important to recognise that negative emotions are something that we all feel sometimes and that experiencing them is a healthy part of being human. Sometimes we feel angry or sad, or simply grumpy for no apparent reason, but the way we manage our moods can have an impact on our happiness. For small minds, changes in mood can be quite the roller coaster as kids learn how to handle experiencing strong emotions. We can equip them in this endeavour by encouraging them to develop their own coping rituals. This might mean going for a walk in the garden when they feel angry and looking for small interesting things to focus on. It could be hugging the dog, or taking a hot bath whenever they feel sad. Giving themselves a practical response to a difficult feeling can help them to allow their emotions presence, which is the first step towards allowing them to dissipate.
Balancing Care With Discipline
Developing strong habits of self-care and self-discipline at an early age is a gift that will keep on giving. Lead by example when it comes to getting enough sleep, being active and eating healthily – this triad of good habits are endlessly tied to mental health and physical well being. A healthy body is the best vehicle for a happy mind! When it comes to imparting self-discipline to children it is important to emphasise that accomplishment does not mean perfection, it simply means putting in some effort, being proactive and not allowing time to slip through our fingers. Balancing these two aspects of daily life is a recipe for personal growth and long term happiness.
Building Meaningful Connection
The simple act of practising kindness has been closely linked to our potential to be happy. This starts with how children interact with each other, so when the kids are squabbling, rather than just telling them to stop, grasp the opportunity to teach them that extending an olive branch, or being generous to a friend or sibling can actually make them feel good too.
Christine Carter PhD explained in her book Raising Happiness, “Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing themselves.” Spending time with others, developing mutually supportive bonds and above all, having fun, are sure-fire ways that we can enable our children to be their happiest selves.