I receive quite a few questions from worried parents asking how to best help their children to be happy. It is clear that they want what we all want for our children…happiness.
Unfortunately, happiness isn’t something we can give our children, any more than we can give them victory or success; they have to attain those things on their own. But what we can do is notice, celebrate, and build on moments of joy as they occur and so plant the seeds of optimism, joy, emotional health, and resiliency. Problems of course are the biggest obstacles. But it’s not the problems themselves that do the most to defeat positive emotions. Instead, it’s the disproportionate amount of attention we give to them.
We have a tendency to allow problems to “pull” and command much more of our attention than the opposite emotional response of happiness, joy, and gratitude. In part, this seems to come from a distorted sense of children needing our help to resolve their problems. Sometimes we can be helpful, by offering suggestions.
Yet, we have to be careful, as we can easily fall into the habit of searching for problems, and not allowing our children the opportunity to learn to handle their own age-appropriate struggles.
More importantly, the way to enhance a child’s experience of happiness and joy is to spend more time noticing moments of happiness and joy. In the process, you will actually build their psychological resiliency and trigger an upward spiral toward improved emotional well-being. It is critical to understand that this is NOT another “good idea” that is abstract. This is a very practical, daily habit that you can begin right NOW! More about this in a moment…but first…understand…
Concentration on difficulties and problems has the opposite effect. The way through a negative experience is not by continued focus on the upset that occurs around that negative emotion. Allow the upsetting emotions to complete themselves. It will…and your child develops emotional “muscle” by working through the moment themselves. The more time we spend “fixing it” for them…the more we disable them from learning at that moment.
Thus, while we want to acknowledge the pain of difficult experiences, we do not want to linger there or to use our questions to keep redirecting our children back to that pain. Too much talking leads to getting stuck and is not therapeutic.
At the same time, when painful emotions are expressed it is not necessary to try to “take these away” from our children. Allow children to have that experience and trust that they will be able to get through it without repeatedly intervening and attempting to redirect. Bottom Line: A focus on the good stuff that creates healthier lives.
While no single rule is universally true, the data tends to point in an intuitively obvious direction: children and adults who experience positive emotions tend to be more resilient in the face of difficulties, have fewer struggles with negative emotions, and their sense of self-esteem seems to improve over time.
In other words…the more time we spend in happy, joyful moments…the more the momentum of happiness builds…and the more internal resistance we have to negative moments and experiences!
So, rather than ignoring the joyful, happy, calm, and cooperative moments, engage with your children during these moments. Laugh! Smile at them! Give them a “thumbs up!” Roll on the floor with them! Play games with them! And be more spontaneous in your play!!
Make sure that your attention keeps flowing more and more…into the moments you value and cherish! This doesn’t mean that you need to be playing for two hours. This means simply stopping in for 15 seconds…or a minute or two…to just engage with the laughter and fun.
Comment on how much you enjoy being with your children when they are laughing and playing. Smile. Giggle for a moment. Thumbs up! Nod.
It doesn’t matter exactly how…just keep putting your energy into those positive moments…and you will build a pattern of more and more positive emotions.
And on the opposite side, be cautious about falling into the pattern where your children pull you into their lives primarily by having a problem or complaining about their world. If this pattern evolves, you have to break it and turn it around, before things will turn toward the positive.
How do you do this? It’s the million-dollar question…right?
Well, it goes back to that simple rule I speak of frequently…at least as a starting point.
The rule: Whatever mom and dad’s attention consistently goes…that’s where your child’s energy will flow. It’s the law.
So for now…just remember to walk away from patterns of repeated complaining, whining, helplessness, or unhappiness. If you keep trying to “fix” these moments, you will find yourself investing your energy into the negativity. Your child’s brain learns that this is what you really value…and they will (automatically) keep finding their way there more and more!
And…begin to obsess on catching the positive…every healthy, happy, positive moment…just take 30 days to obsess on noticing these moments…and you will never look back.