When I ask parents what they want for their children, the most common reply is for them to be happy. Happiness, and to have confidence in their own abilities, dominates discussions regularly and I am not surprised. Sometimes it is hard to balance what is best for children with what makes them happy, but the two do not need to be mutually exclusive. So what really works when it comes to raising happy children? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Model happiness
Research suggests there is a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as behaviour problems. Parental depression can cause behavioural problems in children and also makes parenting less effective. The first step to being a happier parent, and to raising a happy child, is to take some time each week to have fun with friends. Laughter is contagious. By meeting with friends or family members, their laughter will get you laughing too, although it does not need to in order to lighten your mood. 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.
2. Teach children how to build relationships
Spend time teaching your child how to relate to others. Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does. Being able to relate to others who may be different, without bringing prejudice to the relationship, is a skill which, as parents, we would all like to engender in our children.
3. Focus on attitude and not perfection
Our reporting processes at Yateley Manor focus on attitude to learning rather than effort, the latter being invisible and very easily concealed. With a focus on attitude and a determination not to insist on perfection, we will be allowing our children to remain content in the face of mistakes. Carol Dweck, the American Psychologist famous for her work on Growth Mindset, explains: “When we praise children for the [effort and] hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”
4. Always look on the bright side of life
If we want to avoid the surly teenagers who feel the world is against them, we must teach our children optimism. Author Christine Carter compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:
- Are more successful at school, work and athletics
- Are healthier and live longer
- End up more satisfied with their marriages
- Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety
5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait. Children who are encouraged to think more about emotions will come to understand their own emotions, and those of others. A simple first step is to “Empathise, Label and Validate” when they are struggling with anger or frustration. In other words, as adults we must show our children that we understand their emotional responses by listening actively. Relate to your child, help them identify what they are feeling and let them know that those feelings are ones that many have and can be tolerated.
The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” We need to help our children find happiness through our own actions.