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Five Ways We Can Teach Happiness to Our Kids

written by Mike McDonnell, Kidventure Owner & CEO
photo by Jenna Duncan Photography

We caught up with Local Mom and counselor Lindsay Pearce of Lindsay Pearce Counseling and asked her how she recognizes and rewards happiness in her own children. Above photo: Lindsay Pearce and Family at Hermann Park, Houston, Texas

“Happiness is an emotional state, just like sadness or anger.  As parents we naturally want our children to be able to avoid the inevitable pain they might experience from sadness or anger, because well, who wants to see their child hurting?  However, I believe one of the most important gifts we can give our children is the ability to experience, process, and cope with all emotional states, not just the ‘feel good ones.’  I believe that if they can understand their painful emotions they will be even better equipped to fully experience their feel-good emotions.  I recognize their happiness in the same way I recognize their anger and their sadness…with my presence and my love.  I listen, validate, and reflect.  And then I give them the space to feel what they need to feel and allow them to see that they can trust me with all of it and that I can handle all of it.  I believe my kids are happier when they know they can also be sad when they are feeling sad.”

We’ve got to ask ourselves as parents, what is the single most important thing we can teach our kids to be? I would contend it is to be happy.

This answer seems simple enough, but the road map by which we often place our kids on is anything but focused on this one endeavor. We look for the most skilled coaches who can train our kids to be the best athletes. We work to have our children placed in the best academic opportunities so they can earn the highest scores and grades. We strive to ensure they get accepted to the best colleges so they can be better positioned for a promising career. By doing that at all times, we teach our kids to define their own value and merit by those benchmarks.

All of this wrangling and jockeying for our kids’ benefit is often anything but beneficial. Imagine for one moment that, as parents, we agreed to create opportunities for our children not based on their athletic advancement, academic achievement or career potential, but on the opportunity for them to experience and exercise happiness. In effect, we give ‘happiness’ a greater value for our children than any other factor in our decision process. In order to do this, we first have to understand what it is that makes them (and us) happy. That’s a pretty elusive definition, but essentially for me it is anything that fulfills our needs or our soul.

Parents must make a good number of decisions for our kids. As kids grow and mature, they begin to make more and more decisions on their own. The problem that I’ve witnessed over the past several years is that more and more parents continue to make decisions for their kids. Those decisions are often times not based on what makes their kids happy, but rather what makes the parent happy. Part of this dilemma is a result of the pace of life and speed to which our decision process has increased. That speed often compounds the universal parental fear that “if my child does not excel, they will be left behind.” Frankly, we don’t take the time to really think about what our children need. It’s much quicker and easier to decide for them.

Over the course of over 25 years running summer camps for thousands of children, I have seen the direct impact of placing happiness at the forefront of caring for kids. We employ a little over 300 counselors, directors, and support staff in our camp programs. Our curriculum at camp involves athletics, games, art, science, etc.. Our first priority for filling these positions, though, is not based on expertise in those activities. Rather, our biggest criterion is the ability and aptitude to create happiness in a child. We provide great curriculum activities, events and projects, but the end goal is to create an opportunity where a kid feels great about themselves, develops greater confidence in the process and has fun. Essentially, we are fostering happiness. And in the end, happy kids are more excited about trying new things, striving for success and dealing with inevitable failure. Isn’t that what we want them to do for themselves?

So what can we do to help foster a greater level of happiness in our kids? Here are five practices for fostering happiness as a parent:

1 | Choose To Surround Your Kid with Happiness Makers

My kids love to play sports and they have been coached by a number of individuals. I seek out coaches who’s number one lessons are those that apply off the field. I want a coach who is concerned more with the value of my child than the score of the game. Yes, I am competitive and love to win, however; the greatest wins come win my kid feels great about himself and that is internal score, not an external one.

2 | Let Your Kid Choose

We have a tendency as parents to move our kids towards our own likes and passions. That is sometimes great. But if your kid wants to opt for a yoga class as opposed to soccer, give them the chance to lead. True happiness is self-generated and actualized. It is a choice. Giving your kid the opportunity to choose their happiness is essential. When they are no longer under your roof, they will be better off understanding how to make happiness happen on their own.

3 | Change Your Vernacular

When praising your child, let them know they are loved not for what they do but for who they are. You are your child’s most powerful advocate. Make your words demonstrate that at all times.

4 | Recognize and Reward Happiness

We tend to reward our kids for tangible things like scores, points and benchmarks. Start asking your kid if what they did made them happy. If it did, praise them for that alone, no matter the score. If it didn’t, that says something also.

5 | Demonstrate Happiness Yourself

Do things in your life that make you happy and generate happiness. Volunteer and give back. Show gratitude for even the small things and place a higher importance on the experiences instead of the possessions in your life. Take time to value and partake in happiness yourself. The greatest gift you can give your child is yourself. Happy parents make happy kids. Miserable parents, well…you understand.

Happiness is way underrated. It’s time we began valuing this greatest of human endeavors for what it is. If we are to grow our children to be happy and healthy adults, we must first provide them with the opportunity and tools to be so when they are children. Pharrell sang it best, “Clap along if you feel that happiness is the truth.” It is the truth, and it’s time we approached parenting like it is.

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