Every parent’s main purpose in life is to see their child happy. This idea has lead parents to make immense sacrifices and they are happy about every sacrifice they have made for their children’s happiness.
However, not all steps are positive on the long run. Many parents choose to make huge financial sacrifices with little regard to how this will affect their child in the long run.
While spoiling your child with all the material goods they wish for can cheat a smile on their faces, this can by far create a negative ripple effect on their personality. However, going the other way may also hurt your child in the long run too.
Other parents disregard happiness, with the thought that happiness comes from success and being smart. For this purpose, they become over-controlling and too obsessed with their grades, school activities and what not.
Happiness is however the number 1 thing that every kid should have. Kids who are happier are more likely to grow into successful and accomplished adults. Really, a happy child is a motivated child. Without genuine happiness, would you be motivated for great things?
But it’s such an elusive term, that doesn’t really show in itself how it can be genuinely achieved. Or is it?
In her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter, Ph.D. points to what science has shown to really work in the process of raising a happy kid.
Carter is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and in her book, she looks into these dilemmas that we mentioned above, and much more. For your convenience, we have tried to sum up the best ideas in this article – step by step.
Step 1: Make sure you are happy
Yes, the first step to providing a happy childhood to your child is you. Children are really affected by the way their parents feel. Carter notes that this fact is backed by extensive research, which has shown that there is a substantial link between the emotions of the parents to those of their children.
Carter notes that “parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.”
This effect has little to do with genetics. In fact, the effects of the state of mind of the parents did not come as a result of genetics, according to the studies she had cited in her book.
Spending time with your friends, at least once a week, is an important thing. If you have a family, and having a family is a full-time job, you need some time off too. Hang out with friends and family who love a good laugh.
Even if you are not in the mood to laugh, neuroscientists have found that hearing someone laughing triggers mirror neurons in the brain that make you feel as though you are laughing yourself. And we all know that laughter is the best medicine!
We have also written an article about how you could feel happier and more empowered every day. You can read it here.
Step 2: Teaching your children to build relationships
There’s no denying that relationships are important, and every parent feels that too. But how often do you spend time teaching your children to build them?
Yes, your children have learned to bond with you and close family members, you do encourage them to stick to their friends, and you disapprove of any aggressive behavior. But this won’t lead them far into what it takes to build the essential people skills.
What to do: Kindness and empathy
Encourage your children to perform small acts of kindness and work with them on building empathy. The best way to do this is by showing just how beautiful it looks when you do that.
Allow them to see the joy in the others when they are caring and kind, and work things out when they need to consider how they affect others with their actions. Allow them to walk a mile in other people’s shoes (figuratively) before deciding what to do next.
Praising your child for their intelligence, abilities, and successes can have adversely negative effects on their mental health and their future efforts.
Carter notes that “parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids.”
In fact, Carter explains that children who have been praised for their intelligence show a lack of courage when it comes to taking on more difficult challenges, and prefer those that seem easier so as not to lose their status as “smart”.
This, however is not the case with children who have been appreciated and encouraged to put effort in whatever they do, regardless of the outcome.
What to do: Encourage, don’t brag
You may be very proud of your child’s intelligence and achievements, but bragging in front of them for this and labeling them as ‘the talk of the town’, won’t help much.
Instead, encourage them and praise them for the effort and hard work that will eventually bring them to achievement. Having healthy expectations from them means focusing on their efforts toward a good result, rather than the result itself.
Step 4: Teach them to look on the bright side
When she compared pessimists to optimists, she found that optimists are healthier and live a longer life; they are more successful in the academic and working environment; they are more satisfied with their marriages; and are less likely to have depression and anxiety issues.
What to do: Find the silver lining
Every cloud has a silver lining, and after every rain comes a rainbow. This is what you should always teach your children. Avoid being negative about situations in life, especially in front of them.
Life has its ups and downs, and your children should know that. Instead of focusing on the negative side of it, work with them to find the positive lesson out of it, help them look on a positive outcome, and always encourage them to be satisfied with what they have and look forward to better things.
Emotional intelligence is something we learn – it’s a skill. This kind of intelligence comes with a specter of understanding of one’s own emotions, as well as those of the others. This introspection is very important for everyone.
When you see your child expressing emotions actively (sadness, anger), relate to them. Help them to identify the feelings they are experiencing and make sure they understand that every emotion is normal and natural.
What to do: Listen, empathize, show
Instead of dismissing their emotional reactions, especially if it’s anger or sadness, sit down and listen to them. Make sure they are aware you’re listening carefully and are genuinely interested in their side of the story.
You should understand why those emotions are there, and really feel their side of the story – empathize.
No matter if you’re doing the right thing, which they don’t understand, you should never dismiss their feelings that come as a result of your choice. Remain adamant with your choice, but show that you understand their feelings and show your empathy with it.
This is the first part of the 10 Steps to Raising Happy Children. Stay tuned for a second part and in the meanwhile:
If you want to buy Carter’s book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, it’s available on Amazon at an affordable price.