It’s a universal phenomenon that binds parents across geographies, communities and societies; a desire to want their kids to be happy. It’s the closest you can get to an almost universal parenting goal. But in an era where the rat race is seemingly growing younger and where the tangible traits of being sharper, smarter, stronger & faster are lauded more, how exactly do you raise happy kids?
Yes, balancing what’s best for your children with what makes them happy is hard, but it definitely isn’t impossible. It doesn’t entail complicated, time-consuming processes. To an extent, we’re all aware of these processes, because we grew up with them. In the face of all the ‘science’ of raising happier kids, maybe all we really need to do is just look inwards.
Ironically, the first thing you can do is get a bit selfish. How happy you are affects how happy your kids are, and in a dramatic way. Your mood inadvertently affects theirs. All that bit about happiness being contagious? It’s true.
We’re not talking iPads and video games, but unstructured, preferably outdoor play. Running across the grass, climbing trees, sitting on seesaws and digging in the dirt is good for kids. Besides being an instant mood lifter, it lets them learn and grow. Playing is also linked with an improvement in their social skills. Set aside some time in their day for them to go out and do what you did back in your childhood.
Eat dinner together; it’s one of the best habits you can adopt. Eating as a family has been associated with positive moods in kids. Celebrate moments together – the small ones too; the end of a hectic week, the first day of school as well as the start and end of the holidays. All of this basically helps in fostering connections; in making the child feel really and deeply connected to their family members. So, hold your baby, read to your toddlers, eat, snuggle and laugh together. It’ll help them as well as you.
While your child may feel playing on the video game console is what makes him/her happy, excessive screen time is not great for your child’s psychological well-being. It makes them aloof, irritable and even a bit grumpy. Set hard stops on the amount of screen time you allow your child in the car, during meals and during the day. Let them explore the real world instead.
As parents, everyone wants their child to do well in all their endeavours. Don’t set the bar too high for your child. By expecting them to ace all they do, you’re building them up to fear, or worse, shun the things they feel they may not be perfect at. Instead, focus on the process. Acknowledge their efforts, behaviour and attitudes. This will build them up to embrace the unknown and give it maximum effort each time. Don’t overemphasise achievement.
Parents will rush to their child’s aid; it’s instinct. But the best thing parents can do is stand back and let children do for themselves what they’re capable of. Yes, it can be difficult to watch kids struggle, but they’ll never know the thrill of mastery, unless they’re allowed to face failure. Few skills are mastered on the first try. Let them try again, and again. You’re helping lay the foundation of a can-do attitude, which will let them try new things fearlessly. It will let them know it’s okay, if they don’t succeed at first.
When your children talk to you, put down the newspaper, or look over your screens and give them your full attention. Really, really listen to what they have to say. Besides being able to respond more thoughtfully, you’ll open up a line of communication and create an environment where they know that if there’s something they need to talk to you about, you will listen.
It’s a funny thing right? For all the scientific progress we’ve made, sometimes all science does is simply validate parenting truths that our grandparents knew all along.