7 Ways to Raise Happier Children (Part 2 of 2)
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
7 Ways to Raise Happier Children (Part 2 of 2)
Raising happy kids these days is quite a challenge. With all of the negative media on Youtube, on kids' television shows, and on commercials, it can be hard to help children maintain a positive attitude. After all, having a positive attitude is at the core of happiness. And at the foundation of having a positive sense of self is confidence.
In Part 1 of 2 we discovered 4 of the 7 fundamental ways to raise happier kids:
7. Don’t Forget to Praise Them
6. Eat Right
5. Give Kids Some Control - thru Choice
4. Create a Reward System
And now the Top 3 Ways to Raise Happier Kids!
As I mentioned earlier, habits formed as a kid stay with them for a lifetime. Start early. Exercise, outdoor games, and encouraging sports are fundamental to mental health, well-being, and managing stress.
As Mayo Clinic states “Remember, incorporating physical activity into your child's daily routine sets the foundation for a lifetime of fitness and good health. Other benefits include improved aerobic fitness, muscle strength and endurance in children ages 6 to 17, improved bone health and weight status in children ages 3 to 17, and reduced risk of depression in children ages 6 to 17. Children ages 6 to 13 can also have improved cognitive function, such as thinking and memory skills, with regular physical activity.” (Laskowski.)
The Department of Health and Human Services states that they recommend kids ages 6 years and older achieve “at least an hour of exercise a day of physical activity.” (Laskowski.)
I believe kids need much more physical activity than this. Humans have an opportunity to maximize their strength, endurance, and aerobic activity up to a certain age. This age can vary by person, but the point is that after this timeframe it becomes increasingly difficult to accelerate your fitness level.
By that reasoning, I feel it is important for kids to play indoors and outdoors as much as possible. Increased activity stimulates serotonin production, reduces anxiety, minimizes negative behaviors, and improves sleep.
There is no easier way to correct a bad attitude than to go on a bike ride with him or her.
2. Teach Kids to manage their emotions
Emotional regulation is a tough subject because it can be hard for kids to step outside of their emotions. An antiquated belief is that if anyone is experiencing a negative emotion, they should suppress it. However, when you suppress a feeling, you naturally gravitate toward that emotion with intensity.
This often leads to pent up feelings that express themselves in unintended ways states the book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking: …when experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. (Barker.)
Then societal belief became you should embrace and express the emotion. This causes dysregulation because the child is emphasizing their emotion, often leading the individual to magnify their feelings without basis.
This is particularly true in the case of anger. Handbook of Emotion Regulation says expressing a negative feeling reduces emotional intelligence.
…focusing on a negative emotion will likely intensify the experience of that emotion further and thus make down-regulation more difficult, leading to lower adjustment and well-being. (Barker.)
So what is the right answer to helping your child manage his or her emotions?
That’s right. Distraction. Instead of feeding an emotion or suppressing it, simply distract your child with an activity. When you refocus their attention, the emotion naturally minimizes in importance.
This was exemplified by The Marshmallow Test. A researcher put one child into a room at a time and offered them the immediate reward of a marshmallow. If the child delayed from eating the marshmallow immediately, they would earn two marshmallows later instead.
So how did the research subjects manage their emotions? By distracting themselves. These individuals were later discovered to perform higher on tests and had reduced crime rates.
Distraction is great, but how does this help a child?
There are several ways:
Decreased activity in the amygdala increases a sense of positive emotion and lowers stress rates.
Parents who practice distraction can exhibit more positive emotions.
Happier parents almost always produce happier children.
So the natural question is: how can parents reduce the intensity of their emotions and be a role model to children via distraction?
By re-framing the event. As famed researcher Albert Ellis said: You don’t get frustrated because of events, you get frustrated because of your beliefs.
Introduce your children to the art of compassion - the skill of looking at a situation from another’s perspective. Distract yourself, distract your child - by introducing alternative perspectives about an emotional subject. If your child understandably complains that her best friend didn’t sit next to her at lunch in a tone of self-vindication and victimization - help your child re-frame his or her thinking away from his or her own emotions.
Asking your daughter or son to view the situation from another’s perspective may be a bit advanced for some children. However, you can introduce an alternative perspective. For example “Maybe Suzie was having a bad day and wanted to be alone.”
Loneliness is becoming a phenomenon. With the increase in technology, one can foresee loneliness increasing with each passing generation. However, a Harvard study spanning 75 years has indicated that creating and maintaining familial relationships is the one key to happiness in children and adults.
‘Over time, it's turned into one of the most extensive longitudinal studies ever and has revealed a trove of insights. Perhaps the most famous and useful insight is this oft-repeated quote by Robert J. Waldinger, who is the current head of the study:
"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."’ (Murphy).
But how does a parent ensure their child can build lasting relationships and the prosperity of their happiness?
By encouraging kids to eat well, to join sports teams and make friends while staying active.
By rewarding their child for good behavior.
And by teaching their children emotional regulation which will help kids maintain the relationships they have built.
After all, a happy kid makes for a happy parent.
Barker, Eric. ”3 ways to get rid of anger, according to neuroscience” Ladders.com. 19 May 2019. https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/3-ways-to-get-rid-of-anger-according-to-neuroscience
Murphy Jr, Bill. “Harvard Spent 80 Years Studying Happiness, and We Now Know the 1 Key Habit That Makes People Happier. (The Problem: Most People Never Even Try)” Inc.com, No Date, https://www.inc.com/bill-murphy-jr/harvard-spent-80-years-studying-happiness-we-now-know-1-key-habit-that-makes-people-happier-the-problem-most-people-never-even-try.html
Laskowski M.D., Edward. “How much exercise a day do children need?” Mayo Clinic, 17 May 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/kids-and-exercise/faq-20058336