Tips for happier kids (and parents)

I laugh now about how clueless we were.

Nearly three decades ago, my husband and I took our first newborn daughter home without any formal training on how to be good parents. I laugh now about how clueless we were.

I’m thankful, however, that through trial and error, help from our parents and prayers along the way, Paul and I raised two kind, compassionate, beautiful young women. I only wish I had known about someone like sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D., when my kids were little.

Dr. Carter spoke at a recent Go Confidently event at The Olmsted. She lived up to her billing as a “happiness expert and parenting guru.” She’s appeared on many major talk shows, including The Oprah Show and Dr. Oz, and in publications, but her gift is speaking live before an audience and answering questions from parents who struggle with the ups and downs of child rearing.

Her talk began with the statement “Kids don’t do what we say. They do what we do.” In other words, we must model the kind of behavior we want to see our children adopt. Want happy kids? Then think about the face you put on every day. It doesn’t mean everything is happy, but it’s how you deal with life’s ups and downs that makes a difference.

Dr. Carter has written a great book called “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.” She managed to boil down the basics of her book to three overall steps that parents should adopt to raise happy and confident children.

First, feel what you feel. That means when you’re sad, feel sad. Dr. Carter says research shows that any given emotion lasts only 90 seconds. To prevent coming back to the negative emotion again and again, something called ruminating, foster a positive emotion to replace the useless emotion that gets you nowhere. Kids see how you deal with bad things, and they learn something about navigating life as well.

Second, forget about achievement and focus on the journey. That one struck home with me. My whole life I’ve sought to be the best at whatever I do, and while that’s not a bad goal, it’s not what life is all about. I wore myself out chasing down goal after goal. I became much happier when I learned to enjoy life as it came. It’s about the times we fail, figure out what went wrong and get up again to do better. As parents, we have to let our kids fail sometimes, because that’s another thing they’ll have to navigate in life.

Finally, Dr. Carter says make kindness and gratitude the central themes in your life.  Research shows that those who focus on gratitude are 25 percent happier. Even in the worst of times, we can find things to be thankful for. Dr. Carter says she asks each of her four children to think of three things they’re grateful for each night before bed. It helps them (and us) focus on what’s right and good. While it doesn’t make the bad things go away, it helps us move forward on a journey that we do have some control over in terms of how we think, feel and achieve.


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