Remember that feeling of amazement and joy that coursed through you when you heard your child say his/her first word? How you said it over and over again and and encouraged your child to repeat it? How proudly you shared it with your family and friends?
Some of our best moments in life come from watching our children acquiring skills and accomplishing things for themselves. We want them to be happy, successful, independent people as they grow into adulthood and we strive hard to teach them skills to this end. But research proves that more often than not, we skew on to the side of success than happiness.
We are more likely to teach a child to succeed at things than to be happy learning or trying. Are you guilty of this?
Perhaps this is because success is more...measurable. We measure it in terms of skills, a job, money, security, appreciation. But happiness? That's so deep and personal and individual that we can't really generalise it or come up with ways to make it happen.
Children often take their cues from us just like we did from our parents. The idea that a parent will know what to is something that is ingrained in all of us and we instinctively turn to them for answers. As the very first teachers from whom our children learn, what can we do to help them grow into happy, contented adults? Here are 7 lessons to pass on.
#1 Be happy yourself
The first step of teaching anyone is that we have to know the subject ourselves. Children watch, observe the adults in their lives very closely and tend to reflect their emotions and ideas. Look at the positives in your life and celebrate them. If you keep a gratitude journal or say thank-you prayers, involve your little one in it.
A bad day or week or month does not mean you have a bad life. Remind your child of this.
When things don't go too well, be careful about how you respond to them; it's perfectly okay to be irritated or sad, but let your child know that just because you're having a bad day or time, you don't have a bad life. This will help them deal with disappointments better later in life.
#2 Prioritise and build relationships
Relationships take work but are truly worth it because all of us need a tribe. This can be friends, family, pets, neighbours, anyone. If there's one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to ask others 'How are you doing?' and really mean it. Let us not lose sight of that.
Make an effort to care about others, to keep in touch, to check in when they are having a difficult time, and organise ways to connect online if you can't meet in person. Let your child see what you are doing and why. You can make an effort to include them in conversations with mumma's friends, get them to say hi during video calls with family, tell them stories of your cousins or grandparents so that they build a connect.
If there's one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to ask others 'How are you doing?' and really mean it. Let us not lose sight of that.
#3 Emphasize effort, not perfection
Who got the trophy is often less important than who had the best time trying to get it. It is great to win a prize, but to one who enjoys playing the game, it is a win right from the start. Encourage excellence; just do not let it be your only goal.
#4 Teach them optimism
Optimists are not born, they can be made. If you teach your child to believe that a half glass has what you will need, they will be happier as they work toward filling it up. It seems especially hard during this pandemic when so many things seem uncertain or bleak — but it has never been more important than now to raise a generation that is full of hope and looking forward to the future. There is evidence that things work out better if they are viewed that way.
#5 Teach self-discipline
Self-discipline may be as simple as going to bed at the right time even though there is a great time to be had, or sticking to an agree-on quota of TV or tablet. It's hard to practice now but builds up to lifelong happiness habits.
Delaying gratification when young will teach your children to have better control over their emotions later in life and grow up to be balanced adults.
#6 Enjoy more free play time
Play is the work of childhood. As anxious parents we often think that scheduled activities and amassing skills will help our children to be successful. Especially with all the online classes and digital sessions filling up our hours.
Free play is open, unstructured play in which the child decides what to do. Laying out the pieces of a puzzle and drawing around them with crayons; turning Mr Bear into an astronaut who flies to the moon atop the dining table; sliding a window open and shut, pretending to be neighbours...free play can be anything your child wants it to be.
Free play promotes physical, emotional, mental well being along with helping a child to learn how to negotiate, imagine, resolve conflict, prioritize- all skills necessary for the real world. There is research to prove that diminishing free play is slowing down the development of children in the long run. So let them knock those blocks down, or build a toy train track or race cars more often, with more exuberance.
#7 Create the right environment
If you have a happy, disciplined, optimistic outlook, and interact with your children at every opportunity, you are giving them a happiness boost. Eat together, play together, read a book or build something. Some of our best memories come from the simplest times and contribute greatly to our happiness. In this world of mixed messages show them that happiness cannot be bought by having the biggest car or the best clothes or the latest gadgets.
“All the best of me belongs to her” says Helen Keller of her teacher Ann Mansfield Sullivan, in her book, ‘The story of my life’.
As the first and most important teachers in your child’s life, you owe it to them to teach them to create a happy story of their life. So, what are you teaching your child today?