The most we can ask for as parents is for our children to be healthy and happy. We know what to do to ensure they are as healthy as possible, but is it enough to assume they’ll be happy kids and hope for the best, or is there more we could be doing to actively help their happiness along as well?
Any parent can successfully lay the foundation for long-lasting happiness with a little patience and perseverance. Here are some proven tips to help your child flourish.
It’s extremely important for kids to feel connected throughout childhood and it’s one of the true keys to happiness. Fortunately, we are able to firmly establish our child’s primary and most crucial connection – to us as their parents – simply by perpetually offering our unconditional love. However providing opportunities for children to form relationships with extended family members, family friends, school teachers, neighbours, caregivers and even pets allows them to build a strong foundation of security and a sense of connectedness which promotes long lasting emotional well-being. 1
A study involving 90,000 teens, revealed that “connectedness” – the feeling of being loved, wanted, understood and acknowledged, emerged as being the biggest protector against such things as emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, smoking, drinking, and taking drugs. 1
Be a happy parent
Our moods and temperament as parents have a direct impact on our children, so it’s critical to try and be mindful of this. Research indicates that optimistic, happy children are the product of optimistic, happy homes. Conversely, children whose parents are depressed are more likely to suffer with twice the average rate of depression.1
Tending to your own emotional well-being is one of the best things you can do for you and your child. Be sure to take time out for a break and relax, spend time with your friends and partner and keep up your hobbies. The happier you are, the happier your children will be. That’s not to say you have to be ‘walking on sunshine’ every minute of the day – it’s normal to have bad moods and to react to challenging situations, but if you can show your child that you can find the silver lining out of a difficult situation instead of reacting badly you’ll teach him how to positively tackle adversity.
Practice emotional intelligence
Emotional Intelligence or ‘EQ’ can be defined as – ‘The capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically’.2 Emotional intelligence is arguably the key to personal and professional success2 and is therefore an incredibly important tool.
Emotional intelligence is something we learn, it’s not something that we’re born with. Assuming kids will automatically make sense of their emotions, and those of others, isn’t always the best course of action. Sometimes a little help can go a long way. 3
When your child is angry or upset take some time to reflect with them. The steps are to firstly empathise with what they’re feeling – “I understand you’re upset with me – let’s talk about it.” Secondly, label the emotion they are experiencing and validate that emotion. “Are you feeling a little angry and disappointed that I didn’t let you go to your friend’s house this afternoon? I can appreciate that”. 3
By encouraging your child to label her feelings and express them verbally, you allow her to gain a whole new ability to recognise and handle her feelings contextually as well as gain a strong sense of being heard and understood.
Praise their efforts not their results
In order to be most effective, praise needs to be given in a specific way. Research consistently indicates that the most effective way to praise children is for their efforts, planning and techniques, rather than their natural ability or achievements. 3
Praising a child for scoring a winning goal is fleeting, and not something they may be able to easily replicate again. Children can become fearful that if they don’t achieve this level of success again they won’t please you or they’ll fall off the pedestal. Praise children for their hard work, their preparation and problem solving, so when they come across something tricky in the future, you can remind them how effective they’ve been at working things out previously. 4
Try not to inflate the importance of winning – when a strong emphasis is placed on
achievement above all else, children are more likely to have high levels of anxiety, depression and substance abuse when compared with other children3. Allow for their success and their failure and build their self-esteem not through their athleticism or their looks but through their hard work, persistence and drive.
Give them some responsibility
As humans, we have an innate desire to feel needed. Our happiness is dependent upon feeling that what we do is important and is valued by other people. So by letting your child know that he is making a valuable contribution to the family as early as possible, the stronger his sense of self-worth and happiness. When children are given responsibilities that help their family, classmates or team, they’re more likely to display moral behaviour and feel good about themselves. 5
Children as young as three can be given some responsibility, whether it’s refilling the dog’s water bowl or sweeping the floor. Where possible, give them a role that plays to their strengths. For example, if they like to organise things, give her the job of sorting the cutlery. If he loves looking after his siblings, ask him to watch his little sister while you prepare dinner. Acknowledge that they are making a contribution to the family that is valued, and you will increase your child’s confidence and feeling of connection – pre-requisites for lasting happiness. 1
Encourage an ‘attitude of gratitude’
Happiness studies consistently link feelings of gratitude to emotional well-being. Whether you are a religious family or not, the happiest families tend to actively reflect on what they’re grateful for and what’s good in their life. Just sharing with each other at dinner time what you were grateful for today encourages communication between family members but also fosters an ‘attitude of gratitude’ in children from an early age. Being grateful has been linked with numerous benefits such as improving both mental and physical health, increasing empathy and lowering levels of aggression and better sleep.
Have some good old-fashioned fun
Be sure to allow time for just having fun. Planned, extra-curricular activities are great in moderation but there needs to be a balance both scheduled activity and free time. Allowing children to just play, imagine and create helps them discover creative talents and rely on their own inner resources to have fun.