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Raising Happy Children

Raising happy children is what we all want but life has its stresses and society puts pressure on all of us. How can we prepare them to feel happy and to be resourceful for life? This guide will help with some ideas which should keep them - and you - happy.

In 2013, a UNICEF study measuring the happiness of children throughout the world, reported that the UK was the 16th happiest country out of 29. Although 86% of children feel happy and safe at home and school, some children still don’t.

Being happy and seeing positives in any experience will develop children’s resilience. An optimistic outlook will help them to recover from set-backs that might knock other children down for life. Happy children are less likely to suffer from mental health problems and confidence issues later on. And what’s more, they will be in the right frame of mind for learning!

Can happiness be taught?

Martin Seligman is the founder of the theory of Positive Psychology: ‘the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive’, at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr Seligman emphasises the importance of a positive state of mind to help improve our happiness and mental wellbeing. He also shows that happiness can be taught.

A calm and relaxed environment will encourage overall growth and wellbeing. Bringing up your child in a happy and positive environment will give them the confidence to believe in themselves and achieve their goals.

Helping to prevent unhappiness

Mental health issues can affect children as much as adults. Statistics published by the NHS from the ‘Office of National Statistics’ conclude that 10% of 5-16 year olds in the UK suffer from a mental health issue. Around 4% of children suffer from anxiety or depression.

If your child is withdrawn or not engaging, these are warnings to look out for. Recognise any signs as early as possible and intervene gently, with positivity. Don’t wait to see if it will ‘all blow over’.

  • Teach your child that talking helps in most situations and facing up to problems is the way to resolve them. If your child feels that they can talk to you about anything without being judged or punished, you are well on the way to giving them a happy, enjoyable and healthy childhood
  • Children need to know that they have a parent, older family member, teacher or another trusted adult, to go to when they need advice or guidance
  • Encourage your child to express emotions in a safe and controlled way. If they are angry or upset, give them the chance to talk, and to healthily and freely express how they are feeling. This will help them to avoid bottling things up, and unhealthy outbursts
  • Think back to when you were a child - what did you need in order to deal with issues and situations that arose? Share your thoughts but don’t project your own fears and needs – recognise that everyone is different. You can be the best teacher just by listening and supporting. Don’t tell them what to do, but help them to find their own way and make their own good choices
  • Empathise with your child and reflect on life events with them, and options they might take. They will soon realise that you are more than mum or dad, you are human, just like them. You can even be their best friend

Promoting positivity at home

Just as negativity attracts negativity - positivity attracts positivity.

  • Help your child to avoid negative influences like the news, bullies or people who make them unhappy. Or if they can’t be avoided – help your child to deal with them and stay positive in spite of it all. Everyone knows a pessimist - and how energy-draining they can be! Find radiators – not drains
  • Tell your child they are loved, and how proud you are of them. Encourage them to reach for their dreams and to bounce back from adversity
  • Display things around the home to inspire them – motivational posters, certificates of achievement, trophies they have won, even their own drawings
  • If your child gives their all, losing is not a failure - just a missed opportunity. Next time, knowing better, they could be triumphant
  • Encourage them to form important relationships with like-minded, well-adjusted, happy children
  • Most importantly, let them have fun. Give them the opportunity to do activities, sports and hobbies and find their true passions in life
  • Exercise releases endorphins that help us to feel good. They will be burning any excess energy, forming friendships and the fresh air will help them to be alert and healthy
  • Raise your child to be a thoughtful and helpful member of society. Give them tasks to carry out around the house and garden to help them feel useful and to develop a sense of responsibility. Teach them the importance of helping others less fortunate. For example, encourage them to donate their old toys to charity, or to ask a shy child to play. They will feel happy, knowing that they have done something to help others
  • Children often need a routine to feel secure. Good habits help them to feel safe and confident, so always have structure to your family life
  • Introduce ‘thinking time’ into the family routine - a quiet time to ponder the day’s events, discuss anything troubling them and to prepare for the next day. This can be done before they go to bed. It will allow them to learn from yesterday, and prepare for them tomorrow with a positive mental attitude

More information is available on the Young Minds website.

And finally…

Rather than material things, teach children that the best things in life are free, such as friendships, love, laughter and memories.

Children copy what their parents do. So remember that they are watching how you deal with your own emotions and situations. Be optimistic, and provide a good role model.

See Action for Happiness - a movement for worldwide happiness. Their website has lots of resources, toolkits and ways of connecting with likeminded people to spread happiness!

  1. Age is a factor when it comes to happiness. Children of what age report the lowest levels of happiness?
    In 2015 the Children's Society surveyed British children between the ages of 10 and 17, asking them to rate their happiness with life out of 10. 10-year-olds were the happiest, scoring on average 8.0, but as the children got older their scores fell and 17-year-olds rated their happiness an average of 7.1. The pressures of growing up evidently take their toll, so be sure to keep an eye out for signs that your teenager is not happy
  2. According to psychologists, there are 5 elements to happiness, measured under the acronym PERMA. What does the 'P' in PERMA stand for?
    Positive emotion is the most important factor as it is the true feeling of happiness, yet it depends on the other 4 - Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement and Accomplishment
  3. It's claimed that happiness can be taught. Three of the following options improve it - which does not?
    Although treating ourselves does cheer us up, it has only a short term effect - unless you can afford a treat every day! Changing the way we see our lives, and how we behave, both have more permanent effects
  4. Depression is more common than you might think. Studies have shown that how many of us have experienced depression before the age of 19?
    At any one time, 4% of children are suffering from depression. Before they become adults, 38% will have experienced it. Keep an eye out for any symptoms, such as irritability, persistent sadness, a lack of motivation and constant tiredness
  5. If you suspect that your child might be depressed, who should you talk to first?
    It's important that you find out what's troubling them, so the first thing to do is talk to your child to see what's wrong. If they don't want to discuss it with you then let them know you are always ready to listen and encourage them to speak to somebody else they trust - another family member, a friend or someone at school. If all else fails you can always visit your GP
  6. If your child is worried about something which seems trivial to you, how should you react?
    No matter how trivial the problem seems, your child is concerned, so you should take it seriously. Try to remember when you were a child - how you felt about similar situations and how you coped with them. That way you can share your experiences and offer useful advice
  7. Even the way we speak can affect our happiness. Which of the four options would be best to use to describe a restaurant meal you didn't enjoy?
    Negative words - such as 'horrible' or 'dreadful' - can bring negative moods. They make us feel that horrible and dreadful things are happening in our lives when the reality is nowhere near as bad. Even words like 'didn't' or 'can't' have a negative effect, so try to use as much positive speech as you can, even when describing negative events
  8. Feeling useful can boost children's happiness levels. From the following options (which your child may take some persuading to do!), which will NOT help them to feel useful?
    Helping others, even if its just helping you around the house, gives children a sense of usefulness. It also helps to teach them responsibility and makes them more likely to grow up to be helpful and thoughtful adults
  9. Many of us spend too much time worrying about the future or regretting/reminiscing about the past. Keeping our minds focussed on the present moment is known as what?
    When we are being mindful we are more aware of our thoughts and our feelings. This makes us better able to deal with them and so improves our concentration, our relationships, our stress levels and our happiness. See if you can persuade your children to devote 10 minutes every day to being mindful
  10. Children have many different role models on whom they model their own behaviour. Which of the following is the most influential?
    Parents are the first role models children have. Even in the teenage years our actions are taken as the standard so be careful how you act. Also, make sure that you 'practise what you preach'. It's no good telling children that smoking is bad if you get through 20 cigarettes a day! It's true what they say - the apple never does fall far from the tree

Author: Linda Innes

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