9 Secrets to Raising Happy Kids
I usually hate generalizations but I think it’s fair to say that we all want our kids to be happy. At least I’m assuming if you followed the link to this post, that you’re in the 99.9% of non-psychopathic parents who want good things for their children. It doesn’t mean we always KNOW what’s best for our kids or how to help them be happy, but the intention is there, whether the teenage daughter whose life you are “ruining” can see it or not.
We don’t all parent the same and that’s a good thing because every child is different. However, there are several universal parenting tools that can increase the happiness of nearly any child.
Below are 9 of my favorites.
1. Encourage Gratitude – Happiness expert Shawn Achor’s life’s work is discovering what makes people happy. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, he says, “When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.”
When we’re grateful, we feel better. Making a habit of noticing the good around us increases our positivity and optimism. And all it takes is a little practice. Have your kids share what they’re grateful for each night at dinner or write three ‘gratitudes’ each morning in a journal.
2. Teach Hard Work – Few kids get excited about the idea of working hard on a tough project but it’s undeniable how good they feel when they accomplish something difficult. If you ask my kids what they want to do with their Saturday, they’ll likely tell you, “Sit like vegetables in front of the TV and watch Phineas and Ferb until our eyeballs shrivel up.”
However, although they whine as we’re getting started, when I have them join me in the garden or cleaning the house, they always feel great about what they’ve accomplished. Having your kids focus and work together will help them feel useful and important. It will provide tangible evidence that what they do matters, that their actions have consequences and that they can improve the world around them.
3. Engage in Service – Kids are happier when they focus on someone other than themselves. Help channel their love and energy to improving the life of another person and their happiness will skyrocket. It’s really helpful for kids to step outside of their me-centered head space and recognize that there are people out there dealing with really difficult challenges.
4. Let Them Make Choices – Kids at all ages are happier when they feel a sense of control over what happens in their own lives. So give them age-appropriate opportunities to sit in the driver’s seat. Let your one-year-old choose her bib. Let your three-year-old choose her clothes. If you let your child make the choice whenever it isn’t absolutely necessary for you to step in, you’ll end up with a calmer, happier child, possibly a child who wears crazy clothes and whose science fair poster looks like it was designed by a child.
5. Encourage Them to Step out of Their Comfort Zones – Kids, like many adults, can get stuck in ruts. I don’t like shoes that aren’t purple. I only like movies if they’re animated. If the book doesn’t have a dragon, I’m not reading it. I will not get up in front of people and perform.
Of course we’re allowed to have preferences and we should all be allowed to do and experience things we enjoy. However, a lot of joy can come from trying new things and having adventures. Find small ways to lure your kids out of their comfort zones. You may just help them discover a new passion.
6. Let Them Fail – It hurts to see our kids fail or feel disappointed, but one of the greatest things they can learn in life is how to fail well and keep on trying. Failure will happen, and the better equipped they are to deal with it, the happier they will be. They need practice at failing in low-stakes ways, in a safe environment, with a nurturing mentor to guide them. That mentor is you.
So, although I’m not telling you to set them up to fail, don’t try to protect them from every failure. Stay close and see how they react. Then love them and talk them through it.
7. Ask More Than You Tell – It’s easy to micromanage our kids, to boss them through life. However, they and you will be happier if you find a way to let go a little and let them process and come to their own conclusions. Rather than always telling them what to do, try asking them what they should do in a given situation.
For example, when it’s time to leave for school, ask your child, “What do you still need to do to be ready?” rather than saying, “Get your shoes on. Pack your backpack. You need to wear socks today just like every other day.”
Sometimes when one of my kids asks me a question that I think they can figure out, I just turn it back on them.
“Mom. What time do I need to get up for school tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. What things do you need to do to get ready? What time do you think you should get up?”
It’s far more satisfying to figure things out on your own and feel empowered and successful, rather than bossed and belittled.
8. Let Them Be Sad – It is not your job to fix everything. You can love. You can offer advice… sparingly. But it’s not your job to fix everything amiss in your child’s life. Listen to her concerns. Offer sincere understanding and just let her be sad. Sometimes you can’t get to happiness until you’ve given yourself a chance to experience sadness and feel heard and understood.
9. Give Them a Sense of Something Bigger Than Themselves – Do your kids feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves? Whether it’s a family culture, a team, a community identity, or a faith tradition, kids are happier when they know where they fit in the context of a broader world. This gives them a sense of order and belonging and adds meaning to their existence.
However, be sensitive to kids who don’t feel connected and help them understand how their unique attributes and talents are valuable.
What are your best secrets for raising happy kids?
Sharing what works for us as parents helps us to know that we are not alone in our struggles and hopefully eases some of the worry that we carry in our role as “mother”. Here are a few more parenting tips that we have found to be helpful and hope you can find something that works for you: