- What is happiness?
- How can I help my child be happy?
- What activities can I do to help my child be happier?
We are often asked what we want for our children, and a common answer is that we want them to be happy and healthy. But, achieving that is not always easy as children are increasingly faced with factors that can harm their mental well-being and happiness.
Yes, it can be a challenging world for our children. But there are ways to help prepare your children to uphold positive mental well-being and maintain a sense of happiness.
What is happiness?
Psychologists differentiate between two types of happiness.
The first reflects a person’s current feelings based on positive emotions outweighing negative emotions brought about by current (called Hedonic Happiness). The second (Eudaimonic Happiness) is defined by a person’s overall happiness levels as they reflect on their lives (www.vilibrium.com).
The two types of happiness are often interlinked and, at the same time, can be at odds with each other, as one seeks happiness in the short term and satisfaction in the long term. For example, a sportsperson who has fulfilled their ambitions of being an Olympic champion may look back on their life and understand that they missed out on many opportunities for Hedonic happiness along the way.
Whilst there is still some angst over which type of happiness is best to live your life by, the consensus is that a mix of the two is best.
How can I help my child be happy?
There are vast amounts of research, articles and advice surrounding how to help your child be happy. Before we look at some of them in more detail, it is important to understand that these things you can start from as soon as your baby is born.
It is also worth noting that they’re not all easy or quick fixes – but the things we value in our lives are often the ones we try a little harder with, right?
1. Model happiness
OK – let’s start with something that can be tricky! Nevertheless, it is worthy of the top spot. Our little sponges are constantly observing and mimicking the behaviour of the key adults in their lives (for better or worse!). If you read often, they will. If you cook often, they will. However, if you scroll through your phone often, they will too. So, show them you, when you’re happy. Take them to a place that makes you happy. Listen to songs that make you happy. Be with people that make you happy – you get the idea.
2. Establish connections
In the first six months of your baby’s life, ensuring your child has a secure attachment is key to supporting your child to be independent and confident and helps build emotional intelligence. It enables your child to explore the world, knowing they have their parent’s presence for safety and comfort should they need it. As your child grows, establishing connections with other family members and friends can strengthen their happiness.
3. Don’t force it
At times in their lives, our children will feel angry, sad, frustrated or some other negative emotion. Parents often want to fix their children’s problems and make them ‘happy’ again. They may give toys and sweets or take action with the good intention of making their child smile and be happy again. However, in doing so, parents are running the risk of thwarting their children’s resilience. As parents, we must allow our children time to feel these emotions and support them in finding resilience and coping strategies to overcome them.
4. Support emotional literacy
Emotional literacy is closely related to the point above. It is an understanding of how our body feels and its physical state when experiencing different emotions.
It is helpful for a child to know beyond the basic emotions of ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ and further their vocabulary by using words such as ‘excited’, ‘frustrated’ and ‘worried’. As well as teaching the labels for emotions, you should teach your child how their body feels physically. For example, do they feel hot? Is their heart beating quickly? Doing this will help a child’s resilience when they experience a negative emotion and help them understand what experiences give them a positive feeling.
In addition, it is worth spending time discussing with your child (when they are regulated) what they can do to take themselves from a negative emotion to a positive one. For example, you might suggest they sit on their bed, cuddle their parent or even count ten deep breaths.
5. Offer praise for a growth mindset
We often praise our children for their achievements – a goal in football, scoring a high mark in an exam, or coming first in a ballet competition. It sounds harmless and something that we should give praise for. However, all of these focus on the destination – the win or the achievement. This runs the risk of your child becoming too driven by the outcome to win their parents’ approval, acceptance or love, and if that achievement doesn’t go their way or they fail to succeed, that could subsequently affect their happiness.
A more favourable way to praise your child is to praise their approach to the task – praising their efforts to get there, their sportsmanship or perseverance. Research shows (Dweck, 2008) that those commended for their performance (rather than their achievements) are more likely to embrace more difficult challenges in the future and feel better when faced with failure.
6. Allow for mastery
One huge boost for children’s self-esteem is when they can master a task by themselves.
A parenting technique that hinders this development in self-esteem is “helicopter parenting”. This term describes parents who constantly hover around their children, rushing to do the task for them when they struggle with something with the best of intentions to keep their children safe.
Examples could include:
❌ Stepping in to do your child’s homework
❌ Trying to prevent every slight fall or never allowing age-appropriate risks
❌ Never allowing your child to play alone
❌ Stepping in to make your teenager’s decisions every time
Stepping back and allowing your child to make mistakes can seem cruel, but when they problem-solve and ultimately get it right, they are rewarded with increased self-confidence.
7. Make them feel needed
A person who is needed instantly feels a greater sense of belongingness and use. This has a positive effect on self-esteem and can make them happier. Try giving your child tasks to do at home that they are good at or enjoy. Some examples are:
- Ask your child to organise their toy cupboard with you.
- Ask younger children to help with the washing up.
- Let them help with the cooking.
- Show you trust them with responsibility for a family pet.
8. Foster the optimist in them
Optimism is the state of having a positive view of the future and that your own choices and actions shape that future (Imagineering Now, 2012). Contrary to popular belief, you are not born pessimistic or optimistic. Instead, it is a learned behaviour/mindset from past experiences.
The good news from this is that we can learn to be optimistic. We can shape ourselves into more optimistic people by processing an experience with a positive outlook and making positive decisions from that experience. However, the rewards can result in better physical and mental health. It takes time, though.
9. Adapt their environment
Studies prove that an over-dependence on electronic devices harms our mental health. So limiting the time our children spend on computers, smartphones, and other devices seems the logical step to take.
As parents, we can also provide and ensure our children have:
- enough sleep
- a varied diet
- increased time outdoors
- their own space in their home
All of which positively impact a child’s well-being.
Changing a child’s environment in these ways will certainly not be a popular choice with your children; however, small positive changes can significantly affect a child’s mental health.
What activities can I do to help my child be happier?
Action For Happiness is a charity with a mission to make the world a happier and kinder place. It identifies “10 Keys to Happier Living”. They are listed here, but you can also download their app, which suggests daily steps to improve happiness.
- Giving – do things for others.
- Relating – connect with other people
- Exercising – take care of your body
- Awareness – live life mindfully
- Trying out – keep learning new things
- Direction – have goals to look forward to
- Resilience – find ways to bounce back
- Emotions – look for what’s good
- Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are
- Meaning – be part of something bigger
You can also take the HeadsUp “21-day Happiness Challenge” to help bring a smile to your face.
Written by Helen Bailey – Halo Writing Services