Here are some suggestions for raising happy kids. How many are you currently implementing or could you start to practice this week?
1) Start with bedtime: Children require at least 10 hours of sleep every night, regardless of whether it a school night or a weekend. Many parents have coped with bad moods that are result of inadequate sleep. When thinking about bedtime, consider consistency and structure: Keep bedtime family routines simple and easy to follow. When done consistently, children will learn that this routine is the expected norm. In addition, there’s a secondary gain: An earlier bedtime for children allows parents to have time to rejuvenate.
2) Respect your own discipline: Imagine being at a fun-filled, family party and hearing a parent say, “If you don’t stop fighting with your sister, we are going to leave!” The sibling argument continues, but the parent chooses to stay at the party, making the threat a hollow one. Repeating this parental behavior enables children to learn that the consequence isn’t likely to happen. Children quickly come to realize that what parents are threatening isn’t going to happen. As a result, they stop listening. Parents then openly wonder, “Why doesn’t my child listen to me?” Be mindful of carrying through with your stated intention. Remember: If you don’t really plan to do what you say, pick a different consequence that you’re more likely to carry out.
3) Put down your phone and listen–truly listen–to your child: In an environment packed with distractions, giving someone undivided attention can be a challenge. Yet children need relational connections to thrive and can be creative in attention-seeking methods. If they don’t get it when they are behaving well, they will behave differently in ways that demand quick parental attention. Remember to put down whatever you are doing, look your child in the eyes, and have a conversation. Bear in mind that listening is not simply question-asking. Check in on their activities, share good and bad parts of your day, and even make up some funny riddles.
4) Move and groove: Every child is supposed to have 60 minutes of large motor skill activity per day. This includes activities such as running, jumping, skating, soccer, and gymnastics as well as good old-fashioned play! Children will sleep and eat better when they have used up some of their energy. A recent study found that children who engaged in regular physical activity had better grades in school and high scores on standardized tests. Better yet–join them in exercise. Engaging in an active lifestyle is good for the whole family. Train for a 5K. Go on nature walks or scavenger hunts. Kick the soccer ball around. Keep moving.
5) Remember to balance praise and suggestions: Think of praise as adding a penny to one’s developmental bank and critiquing as emptying a penny from the same account. Invest in your child with positive feedback and ensure that sufficient positive feedback has been deposited when critical feedback is given. Otherwise the bank account is drained quickly. Frequent nagging and criticism falls on deaf ears. Can’t find anything positive? Look again. And keep looking.
6) Household chores instill responsibility: Yes, chores will help you in raising happy kids. Helping out around the house can boost children’s sense of self-confidence. An ample supply of activities are possible, ranging from unloading the dishwasher to setting the table to putting away clothes to pulling weeds. Think about the sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy that such activities can promote.
7) State what you want and in different ways: Many parents use the four-letter “d” word in expressing frustration: “don’t.” “Don’t get your clothes dirty…don’t hit your sister…don’t run in the house…” Be mindful of the negative and instead think about telling them what you’d like them to do. “Use a softer voice when talking in the library…” Another effective alternative is to permit the behavior, but in a different place. For instance, “Susie, please continue to play with that loud toy, and please do so in the other room.” By communicating what they want to happen, parents focus on the desired outcome.
8) Give yourself a break—really: Self-care is important for raising happy kids. Taking a break from your parent role is crucial to your own wellness and to your relationships with a spouse/partner, family members, and friends. Whether it is a date, a weekly book club, or an evening workout, the time away from children can bring a welcome fulfillment to many parents. We recognize that the challenges in doing this are many—finding childcare, limited budgets, and scheduling challenges—but even brief stints away can be rejuvenating to you in your parental role.
9) Praise hard work. It is better to focus on the effort the child is putting forth on any given activity rather than only focusing on the outcome. For example, “You worked hard on that project”, rather than, “You are so smart at math.” Parents want to help children connect the idea of effort with accomplishments, rather than some innate characteristic.
10) Let them do their own homework. If parents jump in and continually help with homework, the underlying message to the child is that the child can’t do it themselves. Better for the teacher to have a true reflection of what the child does or does not know rather than what the parent knows. Can this be an exasperating process? Yes.
Are you raising happy kids? Do you have concerns for your children or do you need help with your parenting skills? Anchorpoint offers many parenting resources: individual and family counseling, private parent coaching, and workshops and support groups. Browse our website for additional articles and more information or call us today at 412-366-1300.
Robin Rishel, Ph.D., is a part-time counselor at Anchorpoint Counseling Ministry and is a full-time mother of three. She co-wrote this article with John McCarthy, Ph.D., who is a professor in the Department of Counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a father of two.