Being a caregiver and raising happy children is the most important job you will ever have, and it can be extremely hard. There is no rule book on how to be a parent, but psychological research and practice can give you some ideas on heading in the right direction. I’ve partnered with Dr. Amber Richardson, Ph.D. to share this information with you.
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You are their parent and not their friend
Being a parent involves not just being there for your children emotionally, but teaching them how to function in the world. You don’t have to teach your friends how to do this, but you do have to teach your children. This does not necessarily mean you have to be harsh. To discipline means to teach, and teaching comes in many forms. Your child will not necessarily like the decisions you make, and they don’t need to. While raising happy children, it is your job to be there for your child emotionally, but it is not your job to keep them happy 100% of the time.
You are not equals. You are the authority figure, and maintaining that authority and setting consistent boundaries is essential for raising them to learn and be happy children. This is completely different than the dynamic an adult has with their friends. Parents who treat their children like miniature friends can end up with children who are excessively dependent, have difficulty making good choices, and live with poor boundaries. These qualities will not serve them well in adulthood.
The prospect of letting your child play Minecraft for hours on end while you get things done around the house can be tempting and seem like an easy way for you to raise happy children. However, when used in excess, even pseudo-educational gaming can be harmful. Therapists often hear “but my child will only sit still and focus when playing his game.” This actually makes a lot of sense in terms of how the brain works. Video games are extremely stimulating to the brain. This is why kids with attention problems are able to focus when playing. Their brain is getting such extensive stimulation that it is enough to maintain the focus.
The problem with this scenario is that the rest of life’s activities do not provide this same level of stimulation. When the brain is being excessively stimulated to such a degree, it expects this level of stimulation everywhere, and when it doesn’t receive it the brain is underactive, leading to problems with attention and focus.
Play with them to help raise happy children
While you need to be the authority in the home, play is an additional way to encourage appropriate emotional development. Playing with your child allows for teaching opportunities and modeling of appropriate behavior. Be willing to share in the joy your child experiences from spending time together, and use this as a way to relate to your child by encouraging their interests.
Sharing playtime also sends the message that you care about your children as people and value the things they enjoy. It also provides the opportunity to teach a valuable skill… learning how to lose. While you want to raise happy children, they will not be successful or happy with every endeavor they undertake. Modeling the appropriate reactions to both winning and losing will teach them how to celebrate their successes and be gracious in disappointment.
Get support now.
With my How to Encourage Independent Play Guide, you receive over 50 pages of real and manageable strategies you can implement immediately. I’ve found that so many guides try to change what caregivers are doing already. But I don’t want to give you extra work or change your rhythm and routines. This guide is all about taking what you’re already doing and making it work for your family. You’ll be able to take what you like and leave the rest.
Remove limitations without falling prey to the myth of self-esteem
There are few things more powerful to engrain in your child than the idea that they can be anything they choose if they work hard. Bear in mind that this is not the same as telling them they be anything no matter what. The working hard part is essential. Over the past 30 years, the last part of the idea has frequently been left out and children have grown up believing they are great no matter what and they have a “right” to succeed. When success does not occur, it is unfathomable that there could be any other explanation than it being the fault of some force working against them or just bad luck.
Participation trophies are often to blame for an inflated sense of entitlement, but participation trophies are not altogether a bad idea. There is nothing inherently wrong with acknowledging a child’s participation. However, it is important to convey the message that the mere act of showing up is not the same as putting in the hard work it takes to win. Laura Smith and Charles Elliott’s exploration into this topic in “Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth” (2001) explains how, by telling children they are wonderful (even when they aren’t), parents are neglecting the development of acceptance, and rather focusing on the extremes of high and low self-esteem. Unearned high self-esteem can be every bit as dangerous as inappropriately low self-esteem. When self-esteem is unearned and inflated, the result is entitlement and ultimately disappointment, making it challenging to raise happy children.
Our favorite parenting books
In our current stage of parenting, it’s challenging to sit down and enjoy a book. But we have loved listening to almost all of these audiobooks while driving in the car with my kids or cleaning the house.
Avoid bad-mouthing the other parent
All parents have disputes. These disputes occur whether the parents live together or not. In cases where parents live together, it is important to present a united front to the children. When parents are united, the children learn that the rules of the household do not change based on who they are dealing with at the time. When one parent is constantly undermining the other, the child’s sense of security is also threatened.
Consistency while raising happy children is much more difficult when the parents are divorced or live apart. Oftentimes, one parent does not like, or may even have a severe hatred, for the other. Pointing out the faults of the other parent, however, undermines the authority of both. In the worst of these cases, parents are at risk of creating something called “parental alienation syndrome”, which frequently causes the child to develop attachment problems and other mental health issues in adulthood.
No matter what your opinion of the other parent is, the best policy is to keep it to yourself and only talk negatively about the other parent when you are certain the children cannot hear you. But be careful. Children have an uncanny ability to eavesdrop.
Remember, you’re doing your best
No caregiver is perfect. There’s not a man or woman alive who can look back on raising happy children and say they made no mistakes. Happy children do not need or expect perfection from the adults in their lives. Children need parents who understand the relative importance of balancing both their needs and the needs of the family as a whole. Remember, the goal of parenting is to set up an environment capable of producing healthy, adjusted adults, and not only happy children.
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