03 April 2014

10 secrets for raising happy children!

All parents know what they want for their children, since that very first second they are born. Or at least they think they know, and truly believe they're educating them in the best possible way, preparing them for a future in a way they can succeed in the direction of their {your} plans.

But have you really thought about it? What do I really want for my children?

Questions like: where do you want them to go to school? What kind of people do you want them to become?

Some days you really just want them to finally get their room tidy, or do their homework with no fuss, or have a good night's sleep. On other days, we shape their plans and construct what we consider to be the first foundations of their castles. We dream about successful careers, shiny trophies and perfect mates, we make comparisons, we follow milestones.  

Life has become far too scripted today. Plans are made. Classes are attended. Gone are the days of free play and creating something out of nothing. Once upon a time, childhood was filled with endless days spent outside and very little TV. Imaginations ran wild and kids made their own fun with nothing but an old cardboard box. They played, learned and socialised. But most of all, they had fun.

Many kids today are simply following the script. That's not to say that they aren't happy, many are. But many aren't. Many kids live a life full of adventure and wonder in their own backyards. But many don't. Many simply follow the 'plan'. And that's a shame, because childhood should be all about happiness

Yes, the answer is simple, and unanimous: we all want our children to be happy. Now and forever.

Happiness is {still} the most precious and most wanted asset in this world, you simply can't plan it, you simply can't buy it.

You create it. You build it.

So here are 10 tips {applied with lots of patience and flexibility} that will help you on that path to raising highly happy children.

1. Be 'THE' example. Be Happy.

Making yourself happy is the best way to teach the path of happiness to your children.
You are going to lead by example and your child will want to follow you. Kids do what you do, not what you say! They observe and imitate. You should show them what a happy person looks like. 

Set an example of self-love and self-care. Let them grow watching you say nice things about yourself and investing time in the activities you love...they will follow suit.

Happy parents mean happy children. And, let's face it, the best reason to make yourself happy is because you will be able to better care for you children.

2. Give them time, not things.

You know the story of the rich child who is unhappy because their parents simply don't spend enough time with them - they compensate that giving them stuff! I surely know of some.
You also may have noticed that your children rather spend hours playing some tired old game with you rather than with anything else. Not that they're bored of their other toys, they just enjoy spending the time with you...and when that happens, doesn't their attention span get so much better?!

Spend quality time together, it will help them develop self-esteem and confidence. Kids are intuitive and know when you are truly listening to them, they feel ore connected. Listen, it's the best way to create an open and honest relationship, and it increases their overall happiness.
You will create bonds and memories richer than anything else. For them,and for you.

Teenagers, on the other hand, want things. Give them time also. They don't know it, but that's what they need too.

{NOTE}- in here, I also wanted to include hugs, lots of hugs. Remember, not so long ago they lived happily inside your own body, so body warmth gives them comfort and security. I once read that for a child to feel loved they needed to receive up to 10 hugs a day! I didn't checked for the truth or science behind it, but just in case I always used that on my own children. As much as I can, for no apparent reason you get accustomed to being in each other's arms - well, you just do it anyway!

3. Teach them to be grateful.

Saying 'thank you' is more than good manners. It is being grateful for what we have. Being aware of what's good in life, what people offer us, what we get {you can encourage gratefulness using a daily journal, for example, as part of their dinner routine, where they can point out all the things they are grateful for on that day}.
It's great to teach them that the glass is half-full and no half-empty.

Teach them to be happy with what they have got, instead of being unhappy {and complaining} with what they haven't got.

4. Let them play without instructions. Let them learn for themselves.

Getting on the bike for the first time, your child will learn how to fall and get up as many times as needed until frustration sets in. That will teach persistence and strength of will. When they finally make it, they will feel the taste of their own glory, the fruit of their own efforts.

No one can be happy all the time, every single minute of their day. Children need to learn to tolerate anguish and unhappiness. Our role is to teach them how to walk, not carry them in our arms for the rest of their lives.

Let them play for themselves, setting their own rules. Play is good for the soul.

5. Let them make choices.

Kids have very little control over their own lives. They are constantly being told where to go, what to do and what to eat. A little bit of control goes a long way toward feeling happy and learning about decision making. Let your kids choose their outfits, for example. Allow them to choose the dinner menu one night per week {at home, we always have Pizza Friday, as the kids' choice!}. Ask them what classes they want to take. Give them the opportunity to make some 'little' decisions and watch them smile in return.

6. Say 'NO'.

The World is going to say 'no' to your child, many times in their life. Let them get used to the word 'no' while they are still safe at home with people that love them - it's the best exercise for later life.

Beside, the rest of the world will appreciate not being around in the way of your child's 'someone-said-no-to-me' tantrum.

7. Let them express emotions.

It's important to allow your child to be unhappy once in a while - to express their emotions. They need to learn how to deal with unhappiness, anger and angst, as it is also part of life, part of the human experience. The more comfortable your kids are with those 'negative' emotions, the better they'll be able to feel others like joy and love.

We adults know when to call a friend when the going gets though, right? Let children vent in their own way and then offer help. Enduring a public temper tantrum might feel overwhelming in the moment, but it is better than a lifetime of internalising negative emotions that could lead to a plethora of issues including depression and emotional problems.

Help them exteriorise and recognise what they are feeling. They need to feel our support in those times. Put your arms around them, they will feel that you are on their side. It is agony to watch your child hurt, and telling yourself that it's good for them - what does help is empathy, you understand what they are feeling.

8. Let them experience unconditional love.

Kids mess up. You tell them not to jump off the sofa over and over again, but they do it anyway. When you finally get 'serious' and give them an ultimatum - 'it's the last time I'm warning you...' they stop and start crying. Children need to learn by trial and error and some just feel the need to take risks/chances. You need to show them that there are consequences to their actions. But even so, parents will forgive them, will love them. They will become more confident and secure in their decisions and are more likely to eventually choose to take healthier risks. They learn that people make mistakes, but there is always a chance to make it right.

When children know that their parents will always be there for them, for better or for worse, they are happy.

9. Offer them routine {eat and sleep}

Eating on time.
I know what you're thinking, that's too simple to be a real parenting strategy. Think again.
Have you ever been so hungry that you just wanted to scream? That's how kids feel when they miss a snack or have to wait two hours past their normal mealtime to participate in some super-fancy family dinner. 
Eating at regular intervals refuels their growing brains and bodies, and keeps hunger under control. When kids are calm and satisfied, they experience greater happiness.

Getting consistent sleep.
Some kids are better sleepers than others. While that's certainly the truth, it isn't an excuse for poor sleeping habits. Kids need to learn how to sleep. It's up to us to teach them. When they are completely exhausted, they are cranky. When they are well-rested and ready to embrace the day, they are happier. Make sleep {and a consistent bedtime} a priority.

10. Accept their uniqueness.

Everyone is unique. And most of the times we expect our children to come out with a brand of uniqueness which relates to ours - same opinions and interesting perspectives on the world, same weirdness.

Instead, our kids end up as a self-proclaimed atheist with political views very different from ours. Many of their quirks and interests are completely foreign to us and it's hard not to wonder where they came from.

Who they are isn't about you. They are, indeed, unique. Let them, and appreciate them. Encourage them to fly on their own freak flags, accepting them completely so that they can learn to accept themselves.

:: text:: resources 1, 2, 3

photos and happy children by Nicola Johnson Photography


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