The Secret to Raising a Happy Child
What do you want most for your children? Parents are asked this question time and again. The most common answer? “I just want them to be happy.”
But is the way we’re raising our children evidence of that ultimate goal?
Countless studies have been conducted to learn what truly makes us happy. Researchers have found certain behaviors, practices, and values that are all correlated with happiness. But in a study that compared hope, optimism, gratitude, and life satisfaction to overall well-being, guess which virtue won out?
Maybe the abundance of gratitude journals gave it away, or the classic idiom “count your blessings.” It’s true—small actions and even feelings of gratitude propel us toward higher levels of happiness.
The bottom line is this: kids who feel and show more gratitude are happier kids who will most likely grow up to be happier adults.
As we nurture an attitude of gratitude in our children, we are also nurturing creativity, optimism, vitality, and ambition. And while gratitude benefits our children’s own development, it also helps them create and maintain strong social bonds. Gratitude is often seen as a “prosocial” behavior, which simply means that it promotes relationships; it leads to admiration, helping others, or simply believing in the goodness of people.
There are many things you can do as a parent to foster gratitude in your child. Here are just a few:
1. Use the magic words and encourage your kids to do the same. It may seem simple—and it is. As soon as our infant starts reaching for things, we begin teaching them to say “please” and “thank you,” before they can articulately form the words. Though simple, the importance of this small habit cannot be overstated.
When your child says “thank you,” she is acknowledging that something has been done for her. It’s a small expression of gratitude and keeps her little perspective outwardly focused.
Keep encouraging your children to use those magic words and make sure you are doing the same. When they do something for you, say thank you. When you check-out at the grocery store, say thank you. Your children will follow your lead.
2. No really, count your blessings. In the 1950’s film, White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings Irving Berlin’s now famous words: “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep. And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
You and your children have likely been worried during this uncertain and unprecedented time. But if expressing gratitude leads to happiness, it is sure to calm our fears. Take time with them, maybe before bed, to count your blessings. While their little lives are far from normal, let them brainstorm all of the things they consider to be blessings.
Not only is this a guaranteed feel-good practice, but it will also encourage your children to acknowledge and appreciate all of the good things in their lives.
3. Write thank-you notes. This may already be considered old-fashioned, but writing thank-you notes is a perfect expression of gratitude.
Whether in response to a birthday gift or for no particular reason at all, make a habit of writing thank-you notes in your home. Keep a stash of notes and stamps on hand and encourage your kids to use them whenever they’d like (and maybe make it mandatory for birthdays and Christmas).
Instead of expecting gifts and acts of kindness, this will teach your children to savor them and recognize the sacrifice others have made to help them.
4. Help your children understand the world outside of theirs. Children’s worlds can be incredibly small—especially right now as they spend their days at home. Unless challenged, children may keep this narrow perspective into adolescence (where it gets even narrower) and even on into adulthood.
Abstract thinking is definitely developmental, meaning children can’t completely comprehend all that exists outside of them—the various cultures, personalities, belief systems, etc. However, at an early age you can introduce your children to the world and invite them to see—as they are able, developmentally—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
When possible, plan travel! What better way to show your kids the people and cultures of the world than through experience? Reading books, talking about world events, and bringing in different cultures through language or food is a fantastic way to broaden their perspective. And as their perspective broadens, so will their gratitude for the entire world—differences and similarities alike.
5. Encourage and expect your children to contribute. A big part of gratitude is simply the ability (and tendency) to recognize another person’s sacrifice to lend a hand.
If children aren’t expected to contribute at home, in the classroom, or on the team, it’s almost guaranteed they will develop an entitled attitude, or the idea that they are somehow inherently deserving of reward. As you know, this kind of attitude will stunt their growth and their happiness.
Instead, teach them to work hard and be a contributor. As they contribute, they’ll be much more aware of the efforts of others and much more grateful for the outcomes of their work.
By helping our kids recognize all of the good around them, they will have more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
Research proves this! Gratitude will increase their self-esteem, protect against mental illness, and even improve their physical health. Implementing simple habits of gratitude will help lead them towards greater happiness.