As a grandmother and self-help writer, I'm often asked by readers, "How do you raise happy kids?" This is a question near and dear to every loving parent's heart. No matter what we teach them, if we haven't taught them how to be happy, or can't parent in a way that makes them feel happy, it's rather all for naught, isn't it? So it's a very pertinent question.
I've been blessed with having two happy children and two happy grandchildren. I applied certain principles in raising my kids, and see my son and daughter-in-law apply the same in raising their adorable daughters, Klara and Stina. In this article, I'll share two tips I've learned along the way.
The first is the importance of modeling happiness. You can't give something you don't have. How can you teach kids happiness if you don't have it yourself? Some parents think loving their family means living only for them, driving them everywhere, cleaning up after them, and putting their kids' needs and desires way ahead of their own. Parenting shouldn't turn us into a short-order restaurant or a cleaning or taxi service. It does for some parents. That teaches kids a bad lesson.
A child who perceives his parent as a servant, someone whose life has meaning only through catering to his whims, learns to be selfish. He comes to believe others exist to do his bidding. I have a friend who was raised like that, and she tells me when she grew up, she kept having the strange feeling, "Where are all the servants?" Being catered to was such an ingrained part of her childhood that adjusting to adulthood was difficult for her, because "the servants" were missing.
Kids who are raised this way tend to feel the world owes them a living. So breaking out of the "doormat" mode, if you're in one, is pretty central to giving your kid a chance at a smooth transition to happy adulthood.
When you take care of yourself, make time for yourself, and do things that make you happy, your child learns those behaviors from you. If she sees you going for your dreams and making decisions based on your inner truth, she learns that doing those things is good. On the other hand, if you model dropping everything to fulfill her latest dictate, she learns that parenting means self-denial and victimization. She may then become a self-effacing parent herself or go the other extreme and forego parenting entirely because it looks like such a sacrifice.
So to raise happy kids, be good to yourself. Treat yourself with respect and dignity the same as you treat your child. Don't allow disrespect toward you any more than you'd allow someone to be rude to your kids. Make time for your creative desires and dreams. Plan in some scheduled personal time each week (or day), and make sure that you take it.
Let your kids see you're doing this, and tell them the reason: "Mommy needs to have some fun, too," or "Moms need time every day to relax." This shows your child that you value yourself, and that personal time is important to everyone's happiness.
The second tip I've learned for raising happy kids is the tremendous value of focused attention. The best form this can take is uninterrupted, one-on-one personal time with your child. Think back to your own childhood and some of your happiest memories. Chances are they include that hike you took with Dad, or the time you and Mom went to the restaurant for a dessert.
When we set aside an hour or two to be with our child, away from distractions and interruptions, we tell him he is important and loved. Giving focused attention is much more powerful than the diffused attention kids get while we cook dinner, drive them somewhere, or break up conversations to take calls on our cell phone.
Children thrive on loving, focused, personal attention the way plants thrive on sunshine. Structure in some focused attention every day, even if it's only for five or ten minutes. Look at your child when he talks to you, so he knows you're completely with him. In love, it's the subtle things that count.
Giving focused attention teaches self-worth: your child knows she's valuable because you value her, enough to carve out time for you and her, uninterrupted by the world, for those moments. That spells love, and when she knows you love her, by your actions not your words, that brings security and heart fulfillment, essential foundations of happiness.
In this busy world where parents work two jobs and where kids' social calendars can rival those of debutants, it isn't easy to make time to take care of yourself and uninterrupted time for you and your child. But for happiness, nothing could be more important. Think about your schedule, what is nonessential that you can cut out, or wasted moments that you can eliminate. Use that harvested time to be good to you and your kid. Your child's happiness, and yours, depend on it.
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