What makes a child Happy?
We all want the same things for our children. We want you to grow to love and be loved, to follow your dreams, to find success. We want them to be happy. But how much control do we have over the happiness of our children?
Since childhood, their temperaments come, at least in part, from their genes. But that does not mean that your happiness is predetermined, says Bob Murray, PhD, author of Raising to Optimistic Child: A proven plan for young children to test for depression in favor of life (McGraw-Hill). "There may be a genetic propensity for depression, but our genes are malleable and can be activated or deactivated depending on the environment," he says. "The research clearly shows that happy and optimistic children are the product of happy and optimistic homes, regardless of the genetic makeup." What can you do to create a home where your child's happiness blossoms? Know the seven strategies that will strengthen your child's ability to experience joy.
Parenting connections The safest way to promote the emotional well-being of your child's whole life is to help him feel connected: with you, with other family members, friends, neighbors, child care providers and even with pets. "A connected childhood is the key to happiness," says Edward Hallowell, MD, a child psychiatrist and author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ballantine Books).
Dr. Hallowell points as evidence to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which involved some 90,000 adolescents, in which the "connection" -a feeling of being loved, understood, loved, recognized-emerged as the greatest protector against anguish. emotional, suicidal thoughts and risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and using drugs. Fortunately, we can cement our child's primary and most crucial connection (to us) by simply offering what Dr. Hallowell calls crazy love that never closes. "It sounds weird, and often dismissed as something given," he says, "but if a child has only one person who loves him unconditionally, that's the closest thing he'll have to an inoculation against misery."
However, it is not enough to possess that deep love; Your son should feel it too, says Dr. Hallowell. Hold your baby as much as possible; respond with empathy to their cries; read it out loud; Eat, snuggle and laugh together. Meanwhile, provide opportunities for you to make loving connections with other people, advises sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, executive director of the University of California at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, an organization dedicated to the scientific understanding of happiness. "We know from 50 years of research that social connections are an incredibly important, if not the most important, contributor to happiness," says Carter. "And it's not only quality, but also quantity: the more connections your child makes, the better."
Do not try to make your child Happy
It sounds contradictory, but the best thing you can do for your child's long-term happiness may be to stop trying to keep her happy in the short term. "If we put our children in a bubble and give them all their wishes and desires, that's what they expect, but the real world does not work that way," says Bonnie Harris, founder of Core Parenting, in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and author of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And what you can do about it (Grand Central Publishing).
To avoid excesses, recognize that you are not responsible for your child's happiness, Harris insists. Parents who feel responsible for the emotions of their children have great difficulty in experiencing anger, sadness or frustration.
Immediately we take action to give them what we think will bring a smile or to solve what is causing them anguish. Unfortunately, Harris warns, children who never learn to handle negative emotions run the risk of being crushed by them as teenagers and adults. Once you accept that you can not make your child feel happiness (or any other emotion), you will be less inclined to try to "fix" their feelings, and are more likely to step back and develop coping skills and resilience you'll need to recover from the inevitable setbacks of life.
Feed your happiness
While we can not control the happiness of our children, we are responsible for ours. And because children absorb everything from us, our moods are important. It is likely that happy parents have happy children, while children of depressed parents suffer double the average rate of depression, notes Murray. As a result, one of the best things you can do for your child's emotional well-being is to attend to theirs: have time to rest, relax and, perhaps most importantly, romance. Cultivate your relationship with your spouse. "If parents have a really good and engaged relationship," says Murray, "the child's happiness often follows naturally."
Praise the correcto things
Praise the right things It is not surprising that studies constantly relate self-esteem and happiness. Our children can not have one without the other. It's something that we know intuitively and that turns many of us into overzealous cheerleaders. Our son scribbles and we declare him a Picasso, he scores a goal and he is the next Beckham. But this kind of "praise to achievement" can be counterproductive.
"The danger, if this is the only kind of praise a child hears, is that he will think he must achieve it to get his approval," Murray explains. "He will be afraid that if he does not succeed, he will fall off the pedestal and his parents will no longer love him." Praising specific traits-intelligence, beauty, athletics-can also undermine children's confidence later on, if they grow up believing they are valued for something that is beyond their control and potentially fleeting.
"If you praise your child mainly for being pretty, for example, what happens when you get older and lose that beauty?" Murray asks. "How many facials will you take to make it feel worthwhile?" Interestingly, Murray adds, research shows that children who are praised primarily for being brilliant become intellectually timid, fearing they will be seen as less intelligent, and less valuable, if they fail. The antidote, however, is not to withhold praise but redirect them, says Murray. "Praise the effort more than the result," he advises. "Praise creativity, hard work, persistence, which implies achievement, rather than achievement in itself."
Allor success and failure
Of course, if you really want to boost your child's self-esteem, focus less on compliments and more on providing ample opportunities to learn new skills. Mastery, not praise, is the true builder of self-esteem, says Dr. Hallowell. Fortunately, when it comes to people under 4, almost everything they do is an opportunity to achieve mastery, because it's all new to them: learning to crawl, walk, feed and dress themselves, use the potty and walk in tricycle. Our challenge is to take a step back and let our children do for themselves what they are capable of doing.
"The big mistake that good parents make is doing too much for their children," says Dr. Hallowell. While it may be difficult to watch our children fight, they will never know the thrill of mastery unless we allow them to risk failure. Few skills are perfected in a first attempt. It is through practice that children achieve mastery. And through repeated experiences of mastery, they develop the "can do" attitude that allows them to approach the challenges of the future with the enthusiasm and optimism that are fundamental to a happy life.
Give Real Responsibilities "Happiness depends to a large extent on the feeling that what we do matters and is valued by others," observes Murray. "Without that feeling, we fear we may be excluded from the group, and research shows that what human beings fear most of all is exclusion." In other words, people have an innate need to be needed. Therefore, the more you can convey to your child that you are making a unique contribution to the family, from a young age, the greater your sense of self-esteem and your ultimate happiness.
According to Murray, children up to 3 years old can play significant family roles, either to fill the cat's dry food bowl or to place the napkins at dinner time. If possible, assign a role that plays the strengths of your child. For example, if your child likes to organize things, give him the job of sorting forks and spoons. If he is particularly affectionate, perhaps his role is to entertain his little sister while dining at the table. As long as you recognize that you are making a contribution to the family, you will increase your child's sense of connection and trust, two prerequisites for lasting happiness.
Finally, happiness studies consistently link feelings of gratitude with emotional well-being. Research at the University of California, Davis and elsewhere has shown that people who keep weekly newspapers or magazines of gratitude feel more optimistic, progress more toward their goals and feel better about their lives in general. For a child, keeping a journal can be unrealistic. But one way to encourage gratitude in children is to ask each family member to take time every day, before or during a meal, for example, to name out loud something for which he or she is grateful, Carter suggests. The important thing is to do a regular ritual. "This is a habit that will encourage all kinds of positive emotions," he says, "and it can really lead to lasting happiness."