Can happiness be taught to your child? The experts believe it’s not just possible, but also important, to your child’s early years and beyond. Adopt these tips on instilling happiness in your children.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Ask any parent what they wish most for their child, and the answer is probably for their child to be happy. Of course, we all know that is easier said than done. First of all, what does a happy childhood entail? Is it building close and healthy relationships with others, achieving academic success, or is it about letting your child do whatever she wants?
Obviously, this is a question even the experts have no definitive answer to. What the experts do know is that happiness is a skill parents can teach their children. Your child’s disposition is not set in stone; there are ways for you to mould your child into a happy individual in her childhood and beyond.
Let’s see what you can do as parents to instil happiness in your children.
Take Care of Yourself First
Ever tried spending time with your kids when you’re feeling overly stressed, unhappy, or tired? It’s hard to stay positive around them, isn’t it? You might get irritated more easily, or snap at them at their slightest mistakes. Keep in mind that young children like to imitate their parents; how you behave around your child will affect and influence her mood and behaviour as well.
That’s why it’s important to give yourself plenty of “me-time” to rest and recharge.
Do the things you enjoy, even if it means having your
partner or a trusted companion take care of your kids for a while.
What Made You Happy?
Think of the fun memories you had with your family and friends, and the activities you enjoyed when you were a kid. Maybe you liked helping your mum bake cookies during the weekend or spending time on your own reading or cycling around the neighbourhood.
Plus, in the book entitled The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by child and adult psychiatrist, Dr Edward Hallowell, he recommends parents to think of the forms of discipline they were subjected to as a child. Which of these forms of discipline you feel helped you the most, and which would you not want to use on your children?
Teach Emotional Literacy
Emotional literacy is the ability to recognise, understand and manage your emotions. The ability to empathise with the feelings of others is also a significant part of emotional literacy. Nurturing emotional literacy in the early years of your child’s life is key towards inculcating happiness that will stay with her all the way to her adult life.
Dr Christine Carter, sociologist and executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, in her book Raising Happiness explains it best on how teaching emotional literacy will help your child grow into a happy and successful individual. She says, “Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions for a shorter period of time. In addition, emotionally literate children understand and relate to people better, form stronger friendships, and do better in school.”
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Let Your Child Play
The importance of playtime in childhood shouldn’t be underestimated. Whether it is with other children or alone, the benefits playtime gives your child can stay with her over the years.
The skills your child develops from playtime can
help her build healthy relationships, perform well in school,
as well as at work in the future.
Dr Hallowell explains on the benefits of play for a child. “Play builds the imagination. Play with other children teaches skills of problem solving and cooperation. Solitary play also teaches problem-solving as well as the possibilities inherent in solitude. […] Play teaches the ability to tolerate frustration when you don’t get it right the first time as you build your building or try to ride your bike, and it teaches the all-important ability to fail.”
Raising a happy child isn’t just about trying to ensure your child experiences positive emotions all the time; we know that’s impossible. Rather, happiness also includes the ability to manage negative emotions in healthy ways, instead of becoming overwhelmed by them to the extent where it leads to destructive behaviour.
One way to cultivate this ability in your child is by teaching her ways to deal with difficulties she experiences in her life. Dr Hallowell outlines a few strategies you can adopt. “Children watch and learn from how their parents deal with disappointment, be it in their careers 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 do not give up,” he says.
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