As a mom constantly filled with ‘mom guilt’ this question has plagued me very often. How do I raise a happy child or happy children? How do I do best the job, I love most in this world? With constant reflection, research, and trial & error I have come up with these 10 guidelines which if followed in some capacity – give our children the hope of a future they deserve.
1. Show up
Connection is the core of happiness. It is an irreducible need for all human beings. As infants, the first connections we make are our parents. The way the parents build this connection will be the roots of all relationships for the child. Even the one children have with themselves.
When children are seen and heard by their parents they feel valued. They feel they matter. And that sense of value and belonging holds a person together through the struggles of adulthood. And how do you build this connection? By showing up. You need not be the vision of perfectionism, you just need to be there.
And I know it’s exhausting, with all the thousand things we need to manage but these countless acts of showing up is the best gift you can give your children. The gift of your valuable time. Time is a limited resource and you have chosen them over everything else. You are showing that they matter. That you value them.
2. Give up
Now if we choose to spend our time & attention on our kids means we are giving up something else. Now I do not mean it as a sacrifice. Rather a case of choosing things we value so it ultimately gives us a feeling of satisfaction. To understand the connection between values and happiness please read the article – Values: Meaning, Importance and Benefits.
So we have chosen to be there at a particular moment for our kids. Is that enough? Are we really paying attention to them? Several studies reveal the power of positive attention.
Oprah very famously had revealed that after all her interviews with world-famous celebrities, once the lights dimmed they all asked her one question – Was that okay? They all wanted to be validated and sought connection. Similarly, our kids ask for our attention/connection in several ways – Can you play with me? Can you sit with me? Can you be with me? They are simply asking if they matter.
Now the question is, do they matter enough to turn your attention from something else to them? And let’s be fair, attention takes effort. Lots and lots of effort. And this effort is always a result of genuine love. This love fuels the interaction, fostering connections that serve as the building blocks of happiness for both.
Another benefit of giving up is instilling the value of delayed gratification in them. When we give up surfing on social media, watching TV, social calls, or even a peripheral work-associated task for our kids, we show they matter and our self-discipline. In other words, giving up pleasurable tasks so we can put in the work towards long-term gains.
A personal example I can give you of this is my rule of screen-free Sundays. My husband and I both have given up our Sunday afternoon movie and free use of social media so it can benefit our children’s health in the long term. Due to COVID – 19 and the rising amount of screen time we made this rule together as a family. But I knew if I didn’t follow it, my kids never would and it would also be an unfair expectation. And it works like magic. We plan lots of board game time, outdoor activities and also conduct our problem-solving sessions on Sunday, so it’s a total win-win.
3. Listen Actively
So as mentioned above, we have shown up and given our kids our undivided attention. Now it is time to listen with an open mind. Most of us listen to reply, not understand and that is where all communication fails.
Communication for me is spelled L-I-S-T-E-N. It is the most essential part of any good piece of communication. That is why we have two ears and one mouth. So we listen more and talk less. Or talk after we have listened and understood.
Here are few tips for better listening:
- Lessen the physical distance. Ideally, 18 inches is a good distance to listen effectively. Sit down if possible and face the child.
- Bend your knees and face the child if dealing with a toddler.
- Move to a quieter place if needed.
- If in an agitated state of mind, take a deep breath, count to 10, and then start the conversation.
- Carefully observe the body language and facial expressions of the child.
- Hear the tone of their voice.
- Be aware and soften your facial expressions.
- Maintain eye contact
The next step is empathy. As they speak, be curious and ask follow-up questions. Be fully present so they feel seen and heard. Make an effort to understand their perspective and the feeling behind it. It is truly a powerful thing.
To know more on this please read The Art & Craft Of Conversation.
4. Respond Carefully
Take a pause. Literally.
That is always the start of responding and not reacting.
To be able to respond ably to situations, we must be first self-aware. Aware of our emotions, perspectives, judgments, limitations, and belief systems.
The practice of giving up also applies to when we are truly listening to another. For that moment, we must give up or put aside our current beliefs and feelings and fully immerse ourselves in what the speaker is feeling. It makes the speaker feel valued and gives an opportunity for us, the listener to grow.
Once we have heard the child with empathy then we must take a pause and assess this new information.
If it is joyous news it must be responded to with great enthusiasm and vigor! Responding accurately to the good news is a crucial element in happy relationships. To know more please read: What is the Key to Happy Relationships
If on the contrary, it is sad or shocking information, it helps to take a deep breath and anchor yourself. Your response will direct the course of the next few minutes, hour, or rest of the day.
A few pointers to consider while responding:
- 1. Since our children imitate more than they hear, they are literally watching every muscle, expression, tone, movement in our body as we respond. So respond carefully and intentionally.
- 2. The best way to start is by description or appreciation. Describe the situation to ask help for details or follow-up questions, children love to be in charge. So give them the power of the narrative. Then appreciate any little effort, a gesture they have done to set the right tone of the conversation.
- 3. Be specific. Do not generalize things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Appreciate the action/behavior, not the result.
For example: If your son has just aced a chemistry test.
Instead of saying “I am happy you got good marks, now don’t slack off” you can say “I appreciate your effort in being attentive during class and taking excellent notes. I know you found the subject hard but your diligence paid off. I am proud of your sincere efforts.” It also shows children that you notice them.
- 4. When you want to express a concern or you are not happy with a particular behavior it is best to lead with – I feel statements.
For example: If your son has done poorly on a chemistry test.
Instead of saying “You are always watching TV and being mischievous. You never listen. You are always being a bad boy” you can say “I feel sad when I see you being irresponsible towards your work. I have noticed the urge of watching TV gets the better of you so let’s work out a system together. You can always count on my support when you need it. With effort and dedication, I am sure you will do better next time.”
( The words ‘Never’ and ‘Always are like poison to a conversation. They only bring negative sentiments in the listener and are often the start of a never-ending blame game and power struggle. The use of both words are banned in my house while referring to another person)
- 5. Add humor to lighten things up! It especially helps to scale down elevated situations. Laughing at yourself is a gift given to those with self-assuredness. Use sing-song voices, puppets, hand monsters, and chasing games to fill energy and love in your responses. To know more on fun ways to engage your kids, read: 15 Practical Tips For Children in COVID – 19
People who are self-aware and can manage their own feelings are able to articulate accurate responses for most situations. These abilities all start from understanding our emotions and reasons for – Why we are overcome with emotions?
This is a great area to invest your time & effort because the ability to listen & respond actively forms the foundation of healthy relationships and happy relationships lead to a satisfying, purposeful & happy life.
Children learn and thrive when they play. Unstructured play is a very important part of their development. It allows them to make autonomous decisions, take risks and be more creative and resilient. All qualities needed as adults.
Outdoor play or roughhousing in a safe environment can inject laughter and movement – both activities which release endorphins – the feel-good hormones. Families which play together, feel more connected on a physical and emotional level. Because when you play with your kids, you are speaking their language and showing a willingness to be a part of their world. You show they matter in a language they understand.
Over the years I have been a part of my extremely creative kids’ many fantasy worlds and it has been a tremendous ride. Like many adults, I am a reluctant explorer but their enthusiasm usually entices me, and then we are battling spaceships, saving dinosaurs, playing real-life monopoly, and saving mankind!
We are also ardent board game players. Playing together can give great opportunities to teach so many valuable life skills primarily about winning and losing graciously. And of course, infuse tons & tons of laughter – the best emotional connector.
6. Family Sessions
Just like we invest time in our personal growth, it is also important to grow as a family. By this, I mean renewing connections and replenishing the sense of belonging.
A great way to do this is to identify your values as a family. Values are our guiding principles and the reason behind our decisions and priorities. When you identify values as a family you give everyone a sense of belonging, direction, and purpose. A great way to start is to refer to any list, such as the one below, and identify your top 10 values. Involve your kids and discuss why they are important.
Once you have identified 10 values, get them to the 5 most important. This helps in keeping a specific goal in mind.
Based on this together as a family, you can create a family mantra that exhibits your most important value. For our family it is kindness. So our family mantra is – ‘Kindness is the most important thing in the world’. Similarly, you can create any daily or weekly activities which reinforce your family’s 5 most important values.
Our family values look like:
We plan a lot of our activities depending on the above values. And it really makes a difference. We are all more clearer on the kind of family we want to be.
So plan more themed family dinners, talk about your common history and what makes you unique as a family, plan trekking trips or leisurely holidays, a movie night with late-night snacks, or board game night so you blossom as a family.
7. Be A Consultant
When our children are born one of the first things we do is try to find ourselves in the way the baby looks. Then we try and find our impressions or tastes in them. Basically, we believe that our children represent us. They are an extension of us and should behave like us or excel in the domains we do. To know my personal story on this, please read: Wasn‘t my kid supposed to be like me?
This leads the parent to feel in control and the child to feel very little sense of control. Which is not a good feeling for anyone. They feel powerless and much of teenage rebellion is a result of that.
So now what do we do? A good start is giving age-appropriate autonomy. To know more, read: Positive Emotions In Parenting
Your role is that of a mentor, coach, and consultant. Take a back seat and wait. Let them come to you and they will. Children heavily rely on their parents for advice but they do not like unnecessary intrusions. Talk and find areas when you need to be a proactive guide and some areas where kids want to experiment.
Let them fail.
It teaches them important lessons in courage and resilience. Sometimes the bravery is in being on the sidelines. Have you ever heard of a football coach jumping in to play the game?
The more opportunities they get to solve problems, the more mature their prefrontal cortex will get. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of our thinking brain and the key to making mature decisions. But it needs practice to develop. And your biggest contribution to your child can be to get that practice.
To understand the reasons behind why children do not listen to us and how to coach and problem solve correctly, please read the following articles:
8. Role model
This is my motto in everything. If you want your kids to learn something, just role model it often.
It is a driving force for many of my decisions in life because it is high on my value list. My choice of tone, words, expressions, reactions, actions all are executed with the simple fact that my kids are watching. And they are internalizing everything in their body and mind.
And that is the true significance of our role as a parent.
Really reflect on this, we are raising the future of this world. What would you like it to look like?
9. Teach Gratitude
Blessed are those who have an attitude of gratitude. It is researched to be a single consistently appearing factor in the lives of all those who are extremely happy.
Gratitude makes you feel blessed and leads to positive feelings and emotions. It acts as a great buffer in times of stress and advances an optimistic and hopeful approach in life.
At home, we practice the habit of 3 Good Things every day. Every night before we sleep, my children and I list out 3 Good things which happened to us in the day. It could be as simple as watching a good movie or eating your favorite food to finding a good idea for a project you are working on.
The idea is to instill both gratefulness for what you have and optimism for what the future holds for you. It is my favorite family bedtime activity. Every journey begins with a single step and the path to happiness always begins with gratitude.
10. Be Consistent
Children thrive on routines. Did your kids love to read the same book again & again or see the same show over and over again? Because they blossom on predictability and love to know what to expect.
Consistency in our behavior and responses leads them to develop appropriate plans on how to respond to us and deal with stress. As our kids go to school they can develop stress due to excessive hunger, tiredness, heat, sensory overload, or unpleasant interactions or information, and consistency at home helps them deal with it.
A consistent schedule of mealtimes, exercise, and sleep is essential for our children especially with the extra stress of screen time on their bodies and minds. And as said before, the best way is to role model. To know-how, consistency leads to happiness please read : COVID -19: Habits for Happiness
Consistency on our part also teaches them life skills like discipline, dedication, and commitment. And that is a goal worth working for!
The guidelines above have one thing in common : love. All the efforts above are labors of love and your true legacy to your children.