How to Raise a Happy Child

Every parent wants his or her children to grow up loving life. But we donít always know how to encourage this. Here are a few tips to help you guide your child to a joyful life.

Teach gratitude

Help your child appreciate the everyday wonders of life by stopping what you are doing and expressing thanks for the moment. Whether it is the chance to play ball in the park together, watch a beautiful sunset, or pick fresh strawberries, express gratitude and your child will follow your example. Doctors say that when parents show gratitude, their children grow up more enthusiastic, joyful, interested, and engaged in the world around them.

Listen to your child

If your child comes home from preschool ranting about how much she hates another child, donít immediately criticize her or tell her not to speak negatively. That will only make her repress her unhappy feelings and bottle them inside. Instead, hear her out and acknowledge her emotions. For example, you could say, ďWow, it sounds like he did something that hurt your feelings.Ē When kids feel that their parents understand them, they are happier.

Create routines

Daily rituals and routines are some of the most basic ways to instill a sense of security and pleasure, says Martha B. Straus, Ph.D., author of Adolescent Girls in Crisis. A review of 50 years of research on family routines in the Journal of Family Psychology found that rituals like family meals and bath and bedtime routines help children feel secure, strengthen family ties, and lead to greater productivity. They may even help improve kidsí health by maintaining good habits, such as brushing teeth, exercising, and washing hands.

Encourage physical activity

Running around doesnít just keep your child healthy and fit, it also encourages the release of endorphins that trigger happy feelings. You will also be helping your child establish life-long healthy habits.

Help your child handle frustration

When your child complains that he canít do something, like finishing a puzzle or tying his shoes, donít try to convince him that he can. Rather, show patience and say, ďThatís okay. Thereís no rush. When you want to try again, let me know.Ē The child is then likely to come back to the task, a few minutes or a few days later.

Allow unstructured, unhurried time

If your toddler has ballet class at 10 a.m., music at 2 p.m., and a playdate at 4 p.m., she is hyper-scheduled. Young children donít need as many structured activities as we think they do. Allow your child to play by herself and at her own pace. Play doesnít mean classes, organized sports, and other ďenrichingĒ activities. Play is when children invent, create, and daydream. Give them the time to do that.

Donít overindulge

Over-indulged children who are inundated with new toys or shielded from emotional discomfort are more likely to grow into teenagers who are bored, cynical, and joyless. Itís more important to help children develop inner resources to entertain themselves.

Follow your childís interests

Happy people are often those who have mastered a skill. For example, when your toddler practices throwing a ball to you, she learns from her mistakes, she learns persistence and discipline, and she experiences the joy of succeeding due to her own efforts. She also experiences the joy of recognition for this accomplishment. Most importantly, she discovers she has some control over her life. This feeling of control through mastery is an important factor in determining adult happiness. Make sure that your child is practicing something they truly enjoy or they wonít be as happy about their successes.

Allow your child to be sad or mad

When your child sulks during a birthday party, itís tempting to encourage him to rejoin the fun. But itís important that you allow him to experience his unhappiness. Children need to know that itís okay to be upset sometimes. Itís part of life. If we try to squelch any unhappiness, we may be sending the message that itís wrong to feel sad. Encourage your child to label his feelings and express them verbally.

Teach your child to do meaningful things

As your toddler gets older, teach her how satisfying it can be to help others. Research shows that people who have meaning in their lives feel less depressed. Working for a charity and helping others can help make life more meaningful. Even young children can benefit from this lesson. For example, children could help collect school supplies for children who lost their homes in a natural disaster. Even helping out with simple household chores, such as putting dirty clothes in the hamper, can help your toddler feel that she is making a contribution.

Be a role model

Your child models your behavior, and he can tell when you are unhappy. Make an effort to be genuinely positive around your child.

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