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How to raise a happy child

little girl laughing and playing with water

Key points:
1. Cultivate happiness in children through play, effort recognition, traditions, emotional expression, embracing failure, avoiding comparisons, and offer unconditional love.
2. Model happiness as a parent, prioritize self-care, and teach gratitude to instill lifelong happiness in your child.

What do you want in life for your children? Success? Intelligence, achievements, and prestige? What about internal values? We can’t build a life based on external achievements without giving ourselves a chance to explore our deepest parts. Happiness is not mentioned as often as it should be. So, what about it? How do we define happiness and how can we instill it in our children?

It turns out happiness is not a thing to be found, nor something that can be created, but it can be synthesized instead. We can create the very commodity we are constantly seeking. The latest research on happiness tells us that it turns out to be less a result of luck and external circumstance, than a product of our mental, emotional, and physical habits. So, how can we radiate our children’s inner light?

Here are 10 secrets to help kids find happiness!

  1. Give them time to play

There is so much structure these days. Sports, extracurricular activities, piano lessons. However, what kids really enjoy is free play. Play offers them a chance to find and develop a connection to their interests, an opportunity to learn how to make decisions, solve problems, develop self-control, and follow rules.

An article published in the American Journal of Play stated that children’s playtime has been declining and this pattern affects emotional development. “As a society, we have concluded that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them the happiest, and place them for evermore hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, a setting almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.”

  1. Praise their effort and hard work

Remember to praise the effort your child puts into a task. If children learn that their efforts are appreciated, they will learn to value their effort without necessarily aiming for perfect outcomes. Babies whose efforts are valued and appreciated become more motivated later on.

We think our babies are so smart, so amazing, so good. But please, say Stanford researchers, don’t tell them that. “It’s better to focus on effort and the action your baby is doing. ‘You worked so hard on that’ versus, ‘You’re so good at that’”, says Stanford psychology professor Carol S. Dweck.

  1. Create family traditions

Christmas dinners, trick or treating on Halloween, family dinners! Instilling traditions is a fantastic way of getting kids to feel like they are part of something bigger.

“The statistics are clear: Kids who dine with the folks are healthier, happier, and better students, which is why a dying tradition is coming back.”

  1. Try to not intervene in their homework

The vast majority of parents just want to look over at their child’s work and correct it and make sure everything is done to perfection. Of course, parents have the best intentions. But what are we unconsciously telling our kids? Perhaps we may make them think they are incapable of completing a task on their own –so, please let them handle it.

“Ultimately, we want our children to be responsible because it is a healthy trait needed for success in life. Therefore, parents should try to instill in their children a sense of intrinsic satisfaction (internal feelings of pride and happiness) rather than use extrinsic rewards (external bonuses like candy, money, or toys) for responsible behaviors.” 

  1. Allow them to express their emotions

Kids yell when they are mad, and cry when they are sad. Let them and try to teach them how to be emotionally intelligent. Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean repressing our feelings, but rather honoring and acknowledging them and letting them go. 

“Much of today’s popular advice to parents ignores emotion”, says Dr. Gottman. “Instead, it relies on child-rearing theories that address children’s misbehavior but disregards the feelings that underlie that misbehavior. The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient and compliant child. Most parents hope for much more for their children.”

  1. Teach them to embrace failure

If kids are not trying new things, they aren’t failing. What we ultimately want is for them to face challenges and not run away from them.

“Over investment in their child may make parents highly aware of events in their child’s life, and offer both triggers and opportunities for them to step in and help their child. Such actions are proposed to be related to beliefs about their child’s inability to face difficulties, their uniqueness, their potential for success, and risks of harm. These over-parenting actions are thought to result in reduced child resilience, a sense of entitlement, child anxiety, reduced life skills, and an inadequate sense of responsibility or self-efficacy.”

  1. Don’t compare them to other kids

We often find ourselves tempted to compare our kids with their peers to have a benchmark when it comes to achievements or milestones. But the truth is that every child is unique.

“Kids develop at their own pace and have their temperament and personality. Comparing your child to someone else’s implies that you wish yours were different.”

  1. Happiness starts with a happy parent

Modeling this behavior is the best way to encourage happiness in your child. You don’t have to be a perfect parent, but you can always try to control your emotions!

“The key? How the parents are doing. That’s true, whether the parents are together or separated, and matters more than the number of hours they spend with their children. […] Children do not fare well if the adults aren’t taking care of themselves and their relationships”, says Carolyn Cowan.

  1. Help your child develop gratitude

As parents we often think we can’t be grateful until we are happy. The truth is, people are happy because they are grateful. People who describe themselves as gratefulness-practitioners are also rated as happier. Are we looking for something to be grateful for? Look right in front of you, look at your child!

How can you cultivate gratitude? Hint: Think modeling behavior! For more information, read our article on the topic

  1. And last, but not least… Give them unconditional love

Kids mess up, this is part of a natural childhood experience. Childhood is based on trial and error, so when kids mess up, forgive them. Kids will grow more confident in their decision-making and will take healthier risks later on in life because they feel safe making mistakes. Kids will feel happier when they know their parents will always be there for them no matter what.

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