By Eric Barker
March 24, 2014
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

When you ask parents what they want for their kids, what’s usually the most common reply? They want their children to be happy.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Now there’s tons of info on raising smart kids and successful kids, but how do you raise happy kids?

Sometimes it’s hard to balance what’s best for children with what makes them happy — but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Happier kids are more likely to turn into successful, accomplished adults.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

So looking at the science, what really works when it comes to raising happy kids?

Step 1: Get Happy Yourself

The first step to happier kids is, ironically, a little bit selfish.

How happy you are affects how happy and successful your kids are — dramatically.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

And this is not merely due to genetics.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

So what’s the first step to being a happier you? Take some time each week to have fun with friends.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

More scientific methods for increasing your happiness here.

Step 2: Teach Them To Build Relationships

Nobody denies learning about relationships is important — but how many parents actually spend the time to teach kids how to relate to others?

(Just saying “Hey, knock it off” when kids don’t get along really doesn’t go far in building essential people skills.)

It doesn’t take a lot. It can start with encouraging kids to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.

This not only builds essential skills and makes your kids better people, research shows over the long haul it makes them happier.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

More on creating good relationships here.

Step 3: Expect Effort, Not Perfection

Note to perfectionist helicopter parents and Tiger Moms: cool it.

Relentlessly banging the achievement drum messes kids up.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

The research is very consistent: Praise effort, not natural ability.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Why? Dweck explains: “When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”

More on praising correctly here.

Step 4: Teach Optimism

Want to avoid dealing with a surly teenager? Then teach those pre-teens to look on the bright side.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”

She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:

  1. Are more successful at school, work and athletics
  2. Are healthier and live longer
  3. End up more satisfied with their marriages
  4. Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety

More on how to encourage optimism here.

Step 5: Teach Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait.

Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success.

A simple first step here is to “Empathize, Label and Validate” when they’re struggling with anger or frustration.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Molly: “I am SO SO SO MAD AT YOU.”

Me: “You are mad at me, very mad at me. Tell me about that. Are you also feeling disappointed because I won’t let you have a playdate right now?”

Molly: “YES!! I want to have a playdate right NOW.”

Me: “You seem sad.” (Crawling into my lap, Molly whimpers a little and rests her head on my shoulder.)

Relate to the child, help them identify what they are feeling and let them know that those feelings are okay (even though bad behavior might not be).

More on active listening and labeling (and how hostage negotiators use this) here.

Step 6: Form Happiness Habits

We’re on step 6 and it might seem like this is already a lot to remember for you — let alone for a child. We can overcome that with good habits.

Thinking through these methods is taxing but acting habitually is easy, once habits have been established.

How do you help kids build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:

  1. Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way.
  2. Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.
  3. One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower, especially for kids. Solidify one habit before adding another.
  4. Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.

More on developing good habits here.

Step 7: Teach Self-Discipline

Self-discipline in kids is more predictive of future success than intelligence — or most anything else, for that matter.

Yes, it’s that famous marshmallow test all over again. Kids who better resisted temptation went on to much better lives years later and were happier.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

What’s a good way to start teaching self-discipline? Help kids learn to distract themselves from temptation.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

More on increasing self-discipline here.

Step 8: More Playtime

We read a lot about mindfulness and meditation these days — and both are quite powerful.

Getting kids to do them regularly however can be quite a challenge. What works almost as well?

More playtime.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Playtime isn’t just goofing off. It’s essential to helping kids grow and learn.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

No strict instructions are necessary here: Budget more time for your kids to just get outside and simply play.

More on the power of playing (for kids and adults) here.

Step 9: Rig Their Environment For Happiness

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all very much influenced by our environment – often more than we realize.

Your efforts will be constrained by time and effort, while context affects us (and children) constantly.

What’s a simple way to better control a child’s surroundings and let your deliberate happiness efforts have maximum effect?

Less TV.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

More non-television happiness activities are here.

Step 10: Eat Dinner Together

Sometimes all science does is validate those things our grandparents knew all along. Yes, family dinner matters.

This simple tradition helps mold better kids and makes them happier too.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

More on the power of family dinners here.

Sum Up

Here are the ten steps:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them To Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimism
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment For Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together

We’re often more open to new methods when it comes to work and careers, but ignoring tips when it comes to family is a mistake.

The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.

– Harold B. Lee

I hope this post helps your family be happier.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Related posts:

Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research

Parent myths: How much of what your parents told you was wrong?

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