Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Raising a Happy Child

If someone asked you "What do you want for your child" and you only had one second to answer, what would you say? More than likely the first word that would come to your mind would not be rich, sexy or famous--it would probably be "happy." Nothing makes our hearts swell more than to hear those little infant giggles or to watch our toddlers chase bubbles like it was the most fascinating, joyful activity in the world--sheer happiness in our children in a joy to experience.

But how can we be sure we raising happy children? We can't be sure. Environmental and genetic factors definitely come into play in determining whether our little cherubs will end up "happy." However, there are things we can do to help them along.

Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness outlines several things we can do to help raise happy children who remain happy adults.

His research shows that "over indulged" children who are showered with toys and who are constantly kept out of harms way emotionally (think back to "Everyone Gets a Trophy") may end up cynical and joyless teenagers. He says the best predictors of happiness are internal, not external. In other words, help your kids develop self-coping skills. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Skills like patience and flexibility can give children the inner strength to get through life's ups and downs.

Here are a few things Hallowell recommends along with my own two cents. Note that these relate to little kids--toddler to preschooler--but can be applied to older kids as well:

1) Good sleep and healthy habits: You've read enough of my posts to know how I feel about sleep. It could be the #1 predictor to how happy your child is day-to-day. Teaching your child good eating and exercise habits is also important. No, they may not always eat the spinach or brussel sprouts you put in front of them, but by making them "try" or "take two bites" you are teaching them that eating healthy food is important to you--and it should be important to them as well.

2) Help them develop their interests and talents...without pushing too hard. Sure, we all want our kid to be the next Tiger Woods. Oh, wait...did I just say that? Let's see...Yo-Yo Ma? Michael Jordan? At any rate, we would LOVE for them to be a superstar! However, as we are very aware, we don't all have the God-given talent to be a famous sports star or concert pianist. Some of us have other much more boring "talents" such as being super organized or being able to make fancy Excel tables with their eyes closed. Help your child develop their "talents" however small or boring the might seem to you. For instance, Brookey seems to have an amazing talent for remembering things--words, pictures, events. So I decided to teach her a few Kindergarten sight words. Low and behold, it didn't take her any time at all to start memorizing these words. No, it might not get her a Division I scholarship, but she might do OK in Kindergarten. Likewise, don't PUSH you child tooooo hard to, for instance, learn to read. Brookey is INTERESTED in doing Hooked on Phonics and learning to read. Not all 4 year olds are. That is completely OK. Believe me, your kids will turn out fine! I really wanted Brooke to love gymnastics, but one day she decided she was "done." I went with it, even though it made me pretty mad. I figure at some point we can try it again, but right now I'm going to let her develop her own interests.

3) Let them struggle a bit: No, your job as a parent is not to make sure your child is happy...every single second of the day. They shed a tear, you don't automatically need to scoop them up and "save" them. They're struggling to cut a piece of paper? You don't have to take the paper and scissors and cut it for them. This is NOT how you raise a happy child. This is how you raise an interdependent, helpless child!! Let them make some mistakes. That's how we all learn. And even more important, teach them COPING skills. They're frustrated because they can't cut the paper on a straight line? Teach them what they could do, which might include calmly asking for help. By letting kids learn on their own we create a sense of independence and confidence...which leads to greater self-esteem and happiness. And the best thing--we didn't even have to give them a trophy!

4) Be a good role model: As your kids get older, it becomes very apparent how much of a role model you are to them. You'll find them repeating things you say or taking on your preferences and mannerisms. Scary, but it can be helpful if you play your cards right. Happy parents usually equal a happy child. Stressed parents often exude this stress onto their kids directly and indirectly. Not to say there can be no stress in your lives. Obviously, there is! But be very aware of how you might transfer YOUR OWN day's stress onto your kids. Deal with that privately or with your spouse. Don't take it out on your kids.

5) Have FUN. The daily grind for me is wake up, get the kids dressed, quick breakfast and off to school...then come home, cook/eat dinner, baths, bed. Some days it seems like just that--a GRIND. Many days it seems like I am rushing, rushing, rushing. Where is the fun in that? Not all days are fun, but try to make it a point that every weekend is family time. When I feel like the day or the week has been too crazy and I am always rushing my kids someplace, I'll do something "fun" out of the blue like pick Brookey up early and go to ice-cream or to the library. No matter how busy I am, I always try to somehow, fit FUN into the day's equation....even if it means Brookey staying up 30 minutes later so we can cuddle and watch and movie together or bake cookies.

Here's to happy kids!!

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