Written by: Cally Worden
Parenting may involve a bit (or a lot) of winging it, the basics of care are fairly easy to tick off. Making sure your child has a home, is fed, clothed and stimulated with toys and activities is not difficult as such for most, although granted the cost of all this may present a few problems along the way. But making sure your child is happy? Now that’s a bit less easy to sort. They don’t have a little gauge on their forehead that shows red when they’re sad and green when they’re happy. Life would be a lot simpler if they did.
The Baby Stage
In many ways this is the most straightforward time in the happy-puzzle. If your baby is not happy she lets you know, usually by crying. As your little bundle develops you also start to see positive signs of happiness, like a beaming smile that will melt your heart and an enchanting giggle that should be bottled for those days when you’re feeling blue. At this stage, it’s working out what’s making them cry that’s tricky. You know when they stop that you’ve helped restore them to a happy-state. And experts seem to agree – the thing that makes your baby the most happy is … you. Aw, shucks!
Engaging with your child remains important at this stage too. It is a time of rapid development and growing independence for your baby as she learns to walk, talk and realises that she is not, in fact, the centre of the universe. To remain happy at this age, your child needs you to show her continuing unconditional love, play, boundary-setting and leading by example. Children at this age love to mimic their parents. If you show them what happy looks like, chances are they will find it more easy to discover their own.
Preschool age and Beyond
As your child becomes more able to recognise and name her feelings, you will understand more about the things that make her happy. While individual little things deliver obvious results (a new toy, an ice cream, Daddy coming home), it is an overall sense of well being and contentment that will give your child a true and continuing sense of happiness as she grows.
Self-esteem plays a huge role in the happiness stakes and can be built gradually over time. Every small success that is praised, every kind gesture that is acknowledged and every effort that is rewarded, will lay down building blocks of self-esteem and confidence that create a natural environment in which happy can exist. Helping your child to experience all these positive things and more, will encourage her to see the value of independence and how she has control over her life in a way that can deliver good feelings by the bucketful. This is powerful knowledge that will help your child to become self-reliant as she grows.
Other Important Happy Thoughts:
- Negative Emotions are Okay – I remind both my kids (aged 7 and 3) regularly that what they are feeling is always okay. It’s what you do with those feelings that matters and how they manage them. In this way, I hope I’m validating their emotions and showing them that ‘feeling’ per se is something to be cherished, not something to be feared. We all want our kids to be happy, I think just as important is to help them recognise when they’re not and to learn how to do something about it
- You Mood can Influence your Child – no one can do Shiny Happy Parent the whole time, but be mindful that your own emotions will impact how your child feels, especially when they are young. If you find yourself regularly down or depressed it’s important to seek help and share your own feelings too.
- Health Affects your Child’s Happiness – making sure your child has enough sleep and exercise and eats a healthy diet, will ensure that she is as healthy as possible. Regular bouts of illness can drag your child down, so do all you can to boost her physical resilience
- Teach your Child to Help Others – one proven route to happiness in children and adults is through the pleasure derived from helping others. Learning to share and care for other people will help your child grow into a compassionate and loving adult