Nowadays, there is far more emphasis on test scores, milestones, and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’…but what if that’s not enough to ensure that we raise happy, well-adjusted kids? As a parent myself, I can say first hand that while test scores are important for getting into college, and milestones are important to ensure no developmental delays, they are not the key to happiness. Rather, these stressors are just that: stress that gets piled on our kids.
In fact, ensuring that you have happy children is really pretty simple. Child Psychotherapist Katie Hurley recently published an article entitled 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children that was spot-on. We parents spend hours worrying about the insignificant (although I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that it truly does not seem insignificant at the time). We focus on things like elite sports team, or competitive dance, cheerleading, whether additional homework will help him skip a grade next year.
Sadly, what we’ve failed to focus on is helping our children, our babies, become well-adjusted, happy adults. Because, hard as it is to admit, that adorable toddler who looks at you with those big saucer eyes, or the precocious pre-teen will one day become an adult, and far faster than you’d like. When that inevitably happens, you want to be sure that you’ve given your child the knowledge, tools, and security to figure out how to be happy…(gulp) on his own.
Focusing on your child’s happiness now will pay your entire family back in dividends for years to come. So put down the dishes, leave the emails for later, and stop stressing about that sports team. Instead, focus your energy on these essential tips to a happy baby:
Offer Food at Regular Intervals.
Simple? Yes, but ensuring that your rapidly growing toddler is fed will make sure that you avoid a meltdown and stay on a happy course all day long. Keep a flexible schedule, and be sure to serve meals and snacks as close to the same time each day as possible. It makes a big difference.
If You Must Be Strict, Be Strict About Bedtime.
This has to be my favorite tip. A well-rested child means a happy family. This is exactly why I became The Sleep Lady. I’m sure that you’ve heard the saying “Happy Wife, Happy Life”? I prefer “Well-Rested Baby, Happy Life”!
It’s Okay to Play.
You read that right. Unstructured, un-coached, uninstructed play is extremely important to your child’s development. In the era of rigidly scheduled, extremely structured days, I think that perhaps the art of play has been lost. Do your child a favor and allow a few hours of time to use his imagination. Turn off the television, get out the Legos, and build a castle.
Allow (Some) Emotional Outbursts.
Our children (especially babies and toddlers) don’t quite know how to handle all of these big emotions that are rolling around inside. It’s perfectly normal for your child to throw a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get that way, although very frustrating for mom or dad (and often embarrassing…have you ever had a meltdown in the middle of Target?).
Take a deep breath and remind yourself that he’s small, and doesn’t know what else to do. Then offer to help. Sympathize, empathize, and offer solutions to his problem. Get down to eye level and really listen. He’ll calm down faster if you do.
Choices are Important.
Can you imagine a life where someone else told you what to do all day? Welcome to your child’s world. Allowing choices (ones that you’re okay with), will give him some much needed freedom as well as let him flex his decision-making skills in a safe environment.
Listen. No, Really Listen.
Our children have so much to say. Ask him about his day, or what he wants to play with, or which shirt is his favorite, and then just sit back and listen to him. You’re teaching him how to have a conversation, so get involved, ask questions, and watch his face light up.
And, (most importantly):
Love Without Limits.
We all make mistakes. I’m going to say that again: we ALL make mistakes. Childhood is all about making mistakes, learning from them, and then making more mistakes. It’s a learning experience. Knowing that you love him no matter what will help to build up his confidence so that he’s not scared to explore (safely, of course) or try something new.
Remember, through your actions, you’re teaching your child how to interact with the world, so love him, accept him, and he’ll grow up to be an amazing person.
What’s your secret to happiness?
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photo credit: Matt Batchelor via photopin cc