Unfortunately kids don’t come with a manual — it would be so much easier if they did! One of the common questions that parents ask is about how to raise happy kids.
The term “happy” means something different for everyone. No child should be a 24/7 Pollyanna (thankfully!), and every kid’s temperament is unique. But parents want the best for their kids and they want them to enjoy life.
Bob Murray, MBA, Ph.D., author of “Raising an Optimistic Child,” and Shirin Sherkat Psy.D., author, speaker and founder of “Create Happy Kids,” share their advice on the seven things that will set your children on a path toward a happy childhood.
Murray says that bringing up happy, optimistic children begins with loving parents who demonstrate love for each other and for their children. “This makes kids feel safe and is the foundation of their happiness,” Murray says. Tell your kids every day how much you love them. Be affectionate and free with your hugs, and encourage your kids to share their emotions too.
Offering your time is another way of showing love. “Kids need time with parents,” Murray adds. “Initially this is mom’s time, but later on, both parents. The kids who grow up the most secure are those who have been given the most parental time.”
It can be something simple like having a daily or weekly tradition like reading a bedtime story or going to get ice cream. Every parent is busy and the little tasks in life can seem overwhelming, but it’s important to set aside time every day for each of your kids.
Validation and Praise
“Children need their feelings to be heard, respected and validated,” says Sherkat. “Taking a moment and validating a child’s feelings goes a long way in teaching that kid how to identify and manage emotions as they grow up.”
She believes that validation and praise go hand-in-hand. Children should be “noticed and rewarded for making good decisions. Kids whose desirable behaviors and healthy choices [are] often validated and acknowledged by their parents are more likely to repeat those good decisions and feel more confident about themselves.”
Kids will turn external messages into internal voices of self-validation.
Murray also emphasizes that a ready smile and asking questions instead of giving advice also helps children think for themselves and builds confidence.
“Understanding the difference between their rights and their privileges” is essential to creating a happy child, says Sherkat. “Children should always feel that their loved ones would protect their rights. And a ‘happy kid’ is one who is taught that privileges are always earned. This goes a long way in one, motivating kids, two, teaching responsibility and, three, teaching self-regulation.”
Believe it or not, when your mother told you to play outside, she knew exactly what she was talking about. Dr. Murray suggests giving children as much time in nature as possible. Fresh air and physical activity clear the mind and can invigorate a child’s spirit.
In addition, having plants in the home raises the level of happiness and contributes to a speedier recovery from illness. “Pets also are a source of happiness and optimism,” Murray says — so think about indulging your child’s pleas for a puppy.
Limited Exposure to Violence
Kids shouldn’t live in a bubble, but violent or worrisome TV or video games can create anxiety and stress. “Young kids need the reassurance that parents can look after them, that they can protect them,” says Murray. “When something violent is seen, explain to your children that, yes, bad things happen, but they are safe.”
Get more information about How to Talk With Kids About Violence ť
Children expect some level of routine and structure from their environment. “This creates a great sense of security and stability in kids, and that is very important for healthy emotional growth,” states Sherkat.
Setting boundaries is a key factor in creating that structure. “Be clear about your boundaries and lay down clear and consistent rules which both parents agree on,” says Murrary. “Don’t allow a child to play one parent against the other — this is especially true of divorced or separated parents. A child’s sense of safety is knowing that his or her parents are in control.”
Regardless of genetic makeup, creating a happy and optimistic home environment translates into a happy child. There is no magic wand to wave that will make your child “perfect,” but the happiness begins with parents. Children spend their whole lives observing their parents and happy moms and dads teach children how they can lead a happy life, too.
Jennifer Geisman is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Her work can be found here