We have all read cute stories of princes and princesses going through hardship and then feeling real lucky for not being made into a frog or a beast! Getting to live normally is a premium that we enjoy and don’t really understand the value of, until crisis hits and the normal is not available anymore. God forbid!
So let’s be grateful and happy for what we have and teach the same to our kids.
As a kid, I was always grateful not to have the problems that other kids’ had. Life was smooth and we were able to cope with our studies, got along with school mates and performed well in sports, and extra-curricular activities and life was easy. No wonder some people say that their days as a child were the BEST days of their life!
But today’s kids are different. They need to be constantly motivated to be happy and not grumble and complain at the smallest inconveniences. Right? Have you felt the same with your kids too?
As a parent, I have often had to remind my daughter about my childhood without a mobile and a TV even and we(my sister and I) were perfectly happy. She can’t imagine how I could be happy without swimming or cycling or skating or driving in a car. We were far less demanding and happier as a result. I think part of the reason was that my mother was a great story teller. She set the standards with her stories that were so attractive and humorous that we would break out into peals of laughter. Yet they were constant reminders of how they lived and thrived and made it to the days they were now in.
Stories helped us grapple with the many questions about how tomorrow will look like and what to expect and what qualities one should have to enjoy a smooth pass. Stories really enrich us.
So how exactly do stories enrich us?
Stories release internal joy as we find satisfaction in who we are (self-regard), the quality of your relationships (interpersonal relationship), what we’re doing and how much we enjoy it (self-actualization), and how we’re choosing to frame what happens to us (optimism). These are the building blocks to releasing happiness through stories – by building on the familiar to extend our imagination to vistas we have not known before and capturing it into our psyche through intelligent capitulation.
The four emotional intelligence skills mentioned above—self-regard, self-actualization, interpersonal relationship, and optimism—will predict your child’s happiness. The fastest way to improve happiness levels is to develop each of these characteristics. Even if just one of those EI skills is low, it could significantly lower your child’s happiness level.
For example, the child who has goals and meets them (self-actualization), has good friends and good family relationships (interpersonal relationships), and who is positive and persistent (optimism) possesses three of the four EI skills associated with happiness. But, if she’s not accepting of herself and not confident because of poor self-acceptance and high self-criticism, her happiness level will be impacted significantly.
The child who doesn’t participate in meaningful activities that provide satisfaction and a challenge, allowing her to set and accomplish goals, will not be as likely to be as happy as a child who does possess these characteristics.
Or, suppose your child liked and accepted herself, participated in activities that challenged her and gave life meaning, and approached things with a positive spirit. But, if she does not have close friendships or strong connections within her family, her life will be void of meaning that comes from a relationship that is mutual and rewarding. Finally, if your child had self-regard, self-actualization, and strong interpersonal relationships, but tends to frame most things negatively, she would spend time each day anticipating doom and gloom, an obvious drag on happiness.
Stories help by making children see which areas they need to develop in order to improve their happiness. Thus they learn to rely on themselves to create their happiness and stop expecting others to create happiness for them or give them things that will produce happiness.
Parenting Behaviors that Help Increase Happiness
Be sure your ways of interacting with your child support the development of happiness. Do a check of how your behaviors either build or detract from her self-regard, self-actualization, interpersonal relationships, and optimism.
Parenting, Self-Regard, and Happiness
Do you allow your child to have weaknesses? Or, do you push for perfection in most everything?
Everyone has weaknesses, so modeling your own self-acceptance, despite your weaknesses, communicates to your child it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s going to be hard for most kids to have high self-regard if the parent is consistently critical, pointing out what’s wrong, how the child didn’t measure up, or what needs to be improved.
Another way to harm self-regard is to hover too closely, staying on top of your child about what she should be doing, how she should be doing it, and so on. If you do that, you’re sending a subtle message that you don’t trust your child’s judgment about even the simple things. That will erode her confidence.
Give your child some room to make mistakes and then let her learn from them. For example, rushing through her math homework may result in a careless error or two. If you let her experience the consequences of that (a lower grade), she’ll learn a lot more than if you hover over her, making sure she carefully proofreads her work.
The authoritarian parenting style is the style most frequently associated with children’s anxiety. The uninvolved parenting style may be an artifact of parental depression, leaving children to fend for themselves. Children with depressed parents have a higher chance of becoming depressed themselves.
If you want to build healthy self-regard, make your feedback descriptive, not evaluative. “You spent an hour working on that science project and stuck with it even when you got frustrated” is better than “You did a great job working on your science project today.”
Why is descriptive language better?
First, the child will know what specific thing she did that is worth repeating. And, kids quickly figure out if something can be great, it can also be horrible; evaluative language cues your child into the fact that you are constantly evaluating rather than supporting. So, both positive feedback and constructive criticism should be delivered based on specific behaviors that are worth repeating or should be avoided.
Parenting, Self-Actualization, and Happiness
Simply put, children are happiest when they are achieving goals they’ve set for themselves and involved in activities that are meaningful to them. There is a story of the seven-year-old who was a non-swimmer but really wanted to be on the summer swim team? He found his own niche and achieved great success. Would he have been likely to earn an athletic scholarship to college if his parents had picked out a sport for him and then forced him to do it?
Remember also that achieving goals or doing well at something—even in the absence of a stated goal—is very satisfying. Children need you to support them to do well, not try to make them do well with threats or excessive rewards.
How can you tell the difference between pressuring your child by offering rewards and celebrating successes?
Your motivation will expose the difference. Are you using the rewards or punishments to apply pressure to ensure the child works hard? If so, you’re not celebrating successes! True joy comes from doing something you love and doing it well. That doesn’t need an external reward.
Parenting, Interpersonal Relationships, and Happiness
Every day you have the opportunity to model how to have meaningful relationships with others. Are you setting the example of connecting with others in meaningful ways, including your children?
Talk about subjects that allow you and your child to connect in a more meaningful way. For example, if your child shares a fear about something, telling a story about a time you were scared can be comforting. (Make sure to include how you got over your fear.) The main point is that you’re demonstrating vulnerability and interacting in a mutual way. Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to interact with other adults who love him (e.g., grandparent, favorite aunt, etc.).
He’ll benefit immensely from connections with other adults, people he can rely on both to have fun with and to comfort him when he needs it. And, support his efforts to build relationships with peers. Allowing sleepovers, setting up play dates when children are younger, driving them to a friend’s house even when you’re busy, and other similar behaviors give him the opportunity to form meaningful friendships. He’ll learn about trust, mutuality, and even conflict from such relationships.
Parenting, Optimism, and Happiness
The key parenting behavior is how you frame events—are you an optimist, framing events in terms of what could go right and how you can persist to make things better? If so, you’re teaching optimism simply by your example.
How Can You Tell If Your Child Is Unhappy?
There are four different things to watch for to determine if your child is unhappy:
- First, what is his energy level? And, has there been a decline in energy level? Some kids are naturally less energetic—the passive temperament described earlier in this chapter—and thus a lower energy level is their norm. But, if there’s been a drop in energy level that cannot be attributed to a health issue, starting a new sport that is tiring, or some other external event, the lethargy may be due to unhappiness. For children with passive temperaments, you may find it easier to judge happiness based on other criteria.
- Second, what’s her enthusiasm level? Does she show relatively little excitement or enthusiasm about things she used to love? Or, maybe she’s never shown much excitement about anything. How excited does she get before going to a birthday party, taking a family vacation, or other similar events? And, has her excitement level waned recently?
- Third, look at your child’s emotional expression. Does she smile and laugh frequently and easily? Does anything produce real joy or are her emotions a bit more muted? And, have those emotional reactions changed, becoming less common?
Monitor the emotional expressions of the important adults in your child’s life. Emotions can be contagious—hence the term “emotional contagion”—and research indicates that people adopt the emotions of the leaders. The “leaders” in a child’s life are the parents, teachers, and any other adult she interacts with regularly.
- Fourth, look more broadly at your child’s engagement with life. This sounds a bit amorphous, but the question to ask is simple: Does my child seem to enjoy life? The two ends of the continuum—clear enjoyment of life and its opposite—will be easy to spot. It’s the children who are stuck in the middle somewhere that are more difficult to assess. If you’re not sure, ask for input from a close friend, family member, or teacher who interacts frequently with your child.
What Should You Do If You Have an Unhappy Child?
First, assess which of the four areas of emotional intelligence that are associated with happiness may be contributing to the unhappiness. Most likely, you’ll uncover something related to self-regard, self-actualization, interpersonal relationships, or optimism. Then work diligently to improve those EI skills with your child. Also, talk to your child in gentle ways about what you’re observing.
Suppose your eight-year-old daughter seems to be unhappy lately. Cite behavioral changes such as not wanting to go to her best friend’s house as much or getting nervous before riding the bus. You may uncover some type of situation or event that has created temporary unhappiness or you may discover that her self-regard needs a boost.
A Note about Depression
• Lethargy, or low energy that is pervasive and cannot be accounted for by something else such as a physical illness
Sometimes the bout of unhappiness doesn’t go away within a reasonable period. Or, the unhappy behaviors become even more pronounced. Here are some guidelines for determining whether you should take your child to a psychologist for an evaluation:
• Noticeable changes in sleeping or eating behaviors, absent a good reason such as a growth spurt
• Sudden loss of interest in activities your child used to enjoy
• Muted affect, little smiling, and/or expressions of sadness
• Statements of unhappiness, sadness, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Sudden drop in school performance
• Withdrawal from relationships – Teenagers who are depressed also may give away things that are meaningful to them. Teens also can go from very happy to very sad quite quickly, usually due to a break-up in a romantic relationship, bullying, or perceived betrayal by a best friend.
There’s also a greater risk with teens of committing suicide because they have more skill in collecting whatever materials they need and because they experience disruptions in relationships so intensely they think all is hopeless. It’s always better to err on the side of getting a child help than it is to err on the side of waiting to see if the child will improve on his own. If you take a child to a professional who determines your child is not depressed, that’s good news. And you can probably pick up some tips for how to improve his happiness level. And, if you take a child to a professional and find out he’s clinically depressed, it’s important that you’ve identified the problem early and are getting him or her appropriate help.
Parents must recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their children. They must then identify areas for improvement. When they need to see differently, stories can be handy. Stories that relate and guide them in the way they should go, do the job of teaching without being intrusive. As parents, we can certainly contribute towards our kids’ happiness.