Parents work hard to take good care of their children because they want them to be happy and enjoy fulfilling lives. While happiness isn’t something you can bestow on someone else, there are certain things parents can do to guide their children toward greater joy and fulfillment. Here are 10 scientifically-proven methods for how to raise happy kids.
1. Model Desired Behavior
Dr. Christine Carter, sociologist, happiness expert, and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents* says that there is a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children. These outcomes can be anything from acting out to other behavior problems.
So, focus on the opposite. Remember singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands”? This song indicates to a toddler that their parents are happy at that moment. That behavior shouldn’t end as children age.
It’s important to demonstrate the behavior parents would like to see in their kids. And, if you see your teens modeling negative traits — like spending too much time looking at their phones — review your own behavior. Setting up rules that both kids AND adults need to follow is a strong way of getting everyone on the right path.
2. Eat Dinner Together
Studies show children who frequently eat meals with their families are more likely to have positive self-esteem and experience success in school. They’re also less likely to suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts. Nightly dinner with the family is a worthwhile habit to implement in any home.
In the article, “Systematic Review of the Effects of Family Meal Frequency on Psychosocial Outcomes in Youth,” published by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, found that, “There is a positive relationship between frequent family meals and increased self-esteem and school success.”
3. Teach Relationship-Building Skills
Many kids spend more time on their computers and phones than talking to real people — especially right now. But research reinforces the idea that face-to-face interaction with others can be a profound source for joy. Encouraging children to safely spend more time with friends and family members can help them feel more fulfilled than spending time surfing the internet or chatting with people online.
When it comes to finding joy, developing and maintaining quality relationships is of paramount importance.
4. Practice Optimism
When you’re optimistic, you can’t help but feel more joyful. Studies have shown that optimists are generally healthier and enjoy greater longevity, are more successful at work and school, and have a higher likelihood of staying happily married. They’re also less likely to face anxiety and depression.
Former psychologist and leading researcher studying the science of hope, Shane J. Lopez, observed that if we are hopeful about the future, we are more excited and happy.
Teaching kids optimism is one of the greatest gifts parents can give them. Encouraging youngsters to be optimistic can begin by having them list at least three things they’re grateful for every morning or evening before bed.
5. Reinforce Self-Discipline
Learning how to intentionally delay gratification and exercise self-discipline can help little ones experience greater success in life. It can also facilitate greater learning and social skills in adolescence. Research shows that kids who are self-disciplined and don’t succumb to every temptation are more likely to experience greater happiness in life.
This important skill can be instilled in children by establishing routines, enforcing rules, and providing rewards and consequences for keeping or breaking the rules.
Dr. Laura Markham, parenting coach and clinical psychologist at Colombia University advises parents to encourage a sense of self-discipline. She says that when individuals exercise self-control, they’re giving up something they want for something they want more. This puts in practice the regulation of impulses and builds a set of goals children want to reach.
6. Focus on Improvement, Not Perfection
Demanding perfection from children is a sure way to make them feel like they’ll never measure up. Make it clear that your only expectation is that they work hard to improve themselves. Recognize and praise every improvement, no matter how small.
Pressure is a huge stressor on children and not meeting their own expectation or their parents’ expectations can make them feel like failures. The “best they can be” should be the goal. However, it is important to encourage them to push through things. Telling them they have the potential to overcome any obstacles is key.
“I think that pushing our kids is a matter of getting them out of their comfort zone, and then pushing the zone to be further and further out. We know that being able to tolerate discomfort is a wonderful life trait, and in addition to that, it makes them grittier and more resilient,” says Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the founding president of the Child Mind Institute.
7. Increase Playtime or Exercise
Children need plenty of playtime for proper physical and emotional development. Unfortunately, kids spend much less time engaged in play and more time sitting in front of a screen. This has only increased since quarantine, leaving some to wonder if it’s possible to raise happy kids in these conditions.
The good news? It IS possible.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the UC Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, says “Surveys show – and large-scale randomized interventions confirm – that exercise may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.”
When you exercise, there is a release of endorphins “feel-good” chemicals in your brain. Along with other chemicals like dopamine which is the reward chemical promotes feelings of gratification and satisfaction. Creating social bubbles with friends and family will allow them to have those moments for play.
8. Form Habits Proven to Increase Happiness
So-called “happiness habits” can take time to fully develop, but with consistent effort, they can become a natural part of life. Here are a few habits of joyful people:
- Take time to savor the little things in life
- Spend plenty of time outside
- Get sufficient rest
- Give to others
- Practice gratitude
- Spend a lot of time with loved ones
While you may not always want to take things slow, Lyubomirsky recommends you stop and smell the roses.
“The habit of savoring has been shown in empirical research to be related to intense and frequent happiness. Moreover, savoring is associated with many other positive characteristics. For example, in several studies, people who are inclined to savor were found to be more self-confident, extroverted and gratified, and less hopeless and neurotic,” she said.
9. Create an Environment Conducive to Happiness
If your children grow up in an unhealthy environment, they’re less likely to find satisfaction in life. Make your home a haven for positivity by playing uplifting music and television programs, constantly speaking positive words and engaging in family-friendly activities often.
You have to provide a space where they can be as happy as you wish them to be.
10. Teach Kids to Understand Their Emotions
Children who are emotionally immature are less likely to enjoy life. Emotional maturity won’t happen overnight, but it can be learned. One easy method for parents is to use games to teach social-emotional learning.
The following formula can also help children develop emotional maturity: empathize, label the feeling, and validate it. Doing this consistently can help him recognize his own emotions and how to work through them.
Understanding how to raise happy kids is within every parent’s reach. Start today by implementing one or more of the above suggestions and pay attention to how your children respond.
*Editor’s Note: Parentology is an Amazon Associate and can earn a commission from purchases made through certain Amazon links on this site.
How to Raise Happy Kids — Sources
5 Things to Know about Parental Depression
Systematic review of the effects of family meal frequency on psychosocial outcomes in youth
Why Other People Are the Key to Our Happiness
Raise Happy Kids: 10 Steps Backed by Science
The Secret of Raising a Self-Disciplined Child
What makes people happy?
When to Push Your Children