How It's Possible to Raise a Genuinely Happy Kid
There's a difference between an excited grin on Christmas morning and having an overall upbeat kiddo. As children get older and their schedules become more rigid (and they seem glued to their devices during any free time), those youthful smiles can become more fleeting. This has left many parents wondering what they can do — without bribing or spoiling — to raise a genuinely happy kid that will continue throughout their young-adult years. Focus less on the pressures to succeed and follow these eight tips to ensure that your little one is as happy in life as possible.
Build an Emotionally Safe Environment
In order to have an upbeat and secure child, you need to create a nurturing home that feels like a safe space for your little one to express their feelings. Having an environment that feels open to sharing their emotions and concerns will not only build a stronger relationship between parent and child, but also a more confident little person in general. To help your children grow into happy adults, they need to be raised feeling supported in exploring their identities and finding themselves — not just who they think you want them to be.
Keep to a Schedule
While you don't want to make a schedule that is so jammed-packed that your kid can't enjoy their childhood — and all of the messy times that come along with it — little ones do flourish with a routine. The most important aspect of a daily schedule is sticking to bedtime and teaching your child how to get a restful night's sleep. Learning positive sleep habits will benefit your child in the short term (they wont be a cranky and hateful mess the next day), but also in the long run as it helps them succeed in school and learn time management as a young adult.
Teach an Optimistic Outlook
A child who can look at any situation (including a negative one) with an optimistic outlook is less likely to be depressed. This is because they can assess what is going on around them without always taking the problem personally, which impacts their self-esteem. Studies show that having a positive and grateful attitude is linked to emotional well-being and helps kids stick to goals. One way to help with this is to make it a dinnertime tradition of ask your kids to name something they were grateful or appreciative of that day. "This is one habit that will foster all kinds of positive emotions," said sociologist Christine Carter, PhD. "It really can lead to lasting happiness."
Let Them Be Kids
In a generation filled with rigid schedules, technology addictions, and an emphasis on perfection, having unstructured playtime in your child's routine is paramount. Not only does this give them the opportunity to decompress and digest everything that they've learned throughout the day, but it also promotes creativity, motor skills, emotional strength, social skills, and cognition. Every kid needs the chance to blow off steam without worrying about the final results in a project or sport.
Explore the World
Even though your child is young, you can still add meaning to their lives by teaching them the importance of volunteering and using their time to do something good for others. Whether it's taking an extra few minutes to go out of their way to cheer up a sad friend or exploring their community, teaching your child from an early age that the world is much bigger than their little universe will build not only their empathy and understanding, but also their sense of appreciation and happiness.
Focus on Effort
Praise your child for the effort, not on the outcome. It's no surprise that studies link self-esteem with happiness, so encourage their self-worth by focusing on positive praise and not on perfection. If you only compliment them on the outcomes and successes, they will not only be afraid to fail, but will also be less likely to take on, let alone enjoy, new challenges. If you only practice achievement-based praise, your child might start to think they always have to be the best or win for your approval. "Praise the effort rather than the result," said Bob Murray, PhD, author of Raising an Optimistic Child: A Proven Plan For Depression-Proofing Young Children — For Life."Praise the creativity, the hard work, the persistence that goes into achieving, more than the achievement itself."
The key to raising a happy child isn't just instilling a positive attitude in them — it's in having one yourself. While social and emotional skills are essential in an upbeat kiddo, so is their parents' personal satisfaction with life. Make an effort to take time for yourself and find things that make your life feel more fulfilled. Kids observe their parents' positive outlooks on situations and will learn the benefits of positive thinking directly from your actions.
Nurture Their Connections
Connectedness is the feeling of being loved, understood, wanted, and acknowledged. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, connectedness is the largest protector against emotional distress and risky behaviors in teens. Do not overestimate the power of a hug and physically making your child feel secure. A little one is the happiest when they feel unconditional love between themselves, friends, and family. You want to promote these lifelong connections to help your child not only form them, but also to maintain these relationships as they grow and to have the skills to build upon them. "A connected childhood is the key to happiness," said Edward Hallowell, MD, child psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness.