How to raise a happy kid
potential for lifelong joy is inside every child. Here’s how to
bring it outThink of the smile that appears on your child’s face
when he’s enjoying an ice cream cone. Those are the moments and
feelings we all want to preserve.
But once the last drip is licked, what happens to that happy
feeling? Does it just go away? Or is it something deeper inside?
Can happiness be learned? Or must we be “born” happy? What is
The study of happiness is a growing field and it’s loaded with
questions, especially for parents of young children. We all want
our kids to grow up to be happy adults — that much is clear.
What’s often not clear, however, is how to give our children the
gift of lasting happiness.
We take stabs at it by showering them with nice things, praising
them to the hills, and lending a hand when they struggle. Those
external motivators are okay from time to time, but the results
last about as long as… an ice cream cone.
To raise a child who knows how to sustain joy throughout his
life takes a different approach — one that depends on the
development of certain inner qualities, including optimism,
trust, respect, joy, self-esteem, and a sense of playful
enthusiasm. In short, happiness relies on self-sufficiency and
What happiness looks like
Let’s take a step back for a moment and define happiness. I have
two favourites. The first is simply that a happy person has a
general feeling that life is going well. He is upbeat and
optimistic, and feels as if he is connected to those around him.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t experience sadness at times —
we all face loss, grief, and unexpected setbacks. But, in
general, life feels good. The second definition is simple yet
profound: Happiness is the capacity to enjoy what you have,
rather than always wanting what you don’t have.
So are we born happy? Or must we “pursue” it, as our nation’s
founding fathers so eloquently stated? It turns out to be a
little of both. All children begin life with a tremendous
potential to be happy throughout their lives.
Even kids with a genetic predisposition toward traits like
anxiety or depression have the ability to lead very happy lives,
though it may take more effort for them to reach their full
potential for happiness.
Happiness, unlike eye colour, is not a trait that is guaranteed
to last. What happens during childhood impacts long-term
happiness, but that doesn’t mean you have no chance of becoming
a happy person if your childhood was miserable. There are many
happy adults whose younger years were less than ideal. But as a
parent, it means that you can — and should — play a role in
helping your child create the habits that lead to joyful living.
Five steps to lifelong joy
Fortunately, it’s easier than you might think to begin
instilling the inner qualities that lead to a lifetime of
happiness. With patience and an open mind, the following five
steps can help you lay the groundwork for your child:
Connect with others
More than any other single factor we can control, connection is
the key to a happy childhood, and adulthood. Connection, in the
form of unconditional love from an adult, helps foster
self-confidence. Try to create an atmosphere at home in which
your child feels cared for, welcomed, and treated fairly.
Without that feeling, kids shy away from new things and
Foster a can-do attitude
This is one of the most reliable defences against depression and
despair at any age. Children watch and learn from how you deal
with disappointment, be it in your career or at an athletic
event or even just in being cut off in traffic.
You can encourage competition, making sure that your child
experiences both victory and defeat, and help her deal with
each. You can use humour to deal with the pain, or bits of
philosophy, or simply let your children see that you never give
Pretend and play
Unstructured play hones children’s imagination, teaches critical
problem-solving skills, and trains them to tolerate frustration.
It also helps children learn that doing things again and again
leads to improvement. In fact, play is the most important “work”
your child can do. Practice, as part of structured activity,
trains children how to receive help and get the most from other
adults, such as good teachers and coaches.
Create opportunities for mastery
With mastery comes confidence, leadership skills, initiative,
and an enduring desire for hard work. It transforms a child (or
an adult) from a reluctant, fearful learner into a motivated
One of the great goals of parents, teachers, and coaches should
be to find areas in which a child might experience mastery,
then, make it possible for the child to feel this potent
sensation. Once there, children want to go there again and
The feeling of being valued by others (friends, family,
community) is key. You can exert a tremendous positive influence
through the recognition you offer. We adults too quickly forget
how much it meant to us when we were young — it meant the world
to us, and to children today it still does. Recognition in turn
reinforces the sense of connection that all children need.
Keep it simple
It’s important to say something further about mastery and the
hot topic of self-esteem. Some parents think the way to boost a
child’s self-esteem is to lavish him with praise. Not so.
Self-esteem is rooted in mastery. So, if you want your child to
have high self-regard, do not go out of your way to offer
Go out of your way to make sure he has plenty of opportunities
to experience mastery. And always remember to make sure your
child feels connected to others and valued for who he actually
is, rather than for just his accomplishments. Children who focus
only on mastery, rather than mastery and connection, become
“accomplishment junkies,” always striving for the next thing and
never happy with what they have.
Playtime is not trivial
It may be tempting to skip playtime because it seems trivial.
Don’t. Play is the time children engage fully with what they are
doing. So, if your preschooler is interested in taking apart an
action figure over and over, let him.
If your school-age child likes bicycle racing, let him work with
his friends to figure out how to make his bike go faster and
pursue his passion. The skills he will build as he “plays” with
adjusting his spokes, installing new brakes, or searching the
internet for racing tips are far greater than just learning
A good rule of thumb is to keep it simple and enjoy your
children. You can’t buy happiness — it is learned and earned.
But once they have developed a solid can-do attitude, children
are set with skills to which they can return throughout their
(Source: Parent & Child)