Do you ever wonder how your children will remember their childhoods?
Affectionately? Sadly? Gratefully? Resentfully? Often, we worry we don’t have enough to give them. We run low on time, money, patience, and everything else that seems to matter in adulthood.
The good news, however, is that you can create a happy childhood for your little ones even if you think you have very little to give.
Here are seven things that ANY parent – regardless of time, funds, or family structure – can give their child to ensure a happy life:
1. Model Happiness
– Although well intentioned, parents who focus exclusively on the happiness of their children often do more harm than good in the long run. How can our children learn to be happy when the most important people in their lives are miserable? Show your child what it means to prioritize happiness. Take care of yourself. Pursue your own dreams and ambitions. Engage in happy friendships and fulfilling spirituality. As Jim Henson wrote, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
2. Give Responsibility
– Even small children are capable of doing chores. A child as young as two can pick up toys, fill a pet’s food dish, and put dirty clothes in a hamper. Doing so builds their sense of self-esteem and allows them to feel as if they are contributing to the household. They take pride in their work. They feel capable. Most importantly, they get the sense that their choices and actions make a difference in their world. Children who do chores become more responsible, more disciplined, and more successful both academically and professionally.
3. Allow Reasonable Risk
– It’s in our nature as parents to protect our children from harm. However, it’s in a child’s nature to push boundaries. Children yearn to explore their own abilities and take risks. This is not only normal, but important for healthy development. Taking appropriate risks allows your child to build a sense of freedom, courage, and accomplishment. It also allows the possibility of failure – an underestimated learning tool. Failure allows our children to build coping skills, resilience, and maturity. Allowing a child to take risks is not easy, but it is tremendously valuable.
4. Create Family Traditions
– Family traditions give your child a sense of stability and identity. These don’t have to be passed down for generations and done in a large group. Valued traditions can be created at any moment, between as many – or as few – people as you’d like. They can be purposeful or organic, silly or serious. Your participation is what gives them meaning. Here are some examples to get you started.
5. Use Negative Emotions as Learning Tools
– Every child will feel sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy, fear, and disappointment. Unfortunately, this is a part of life. Many parents react by punishing their child for expressing these feelings in a negative way. As a result, the child learns to bottle up their emotions – a terrible strategy for adulthood. Instead, teach your child to manage and understand their feelings. Name these emotions. Talk about healthy expression and outlets. This isn’t an easy skill to master, but it’s such an important one.
6. Don’t Compare
– In our competitive society, it is natural to wonder if your child is keeping up with their peers. However, it is important to keep those worries to yourself. Children develop at their own pace, and encouraging unhealthy competition can cause insecurity, stress, and low self-esteem. Instead, teach your child to value themselves unconditionally. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
7. Encourage Playtime
– For children, free play is not only vital to their happiness. It is also an important part of brain development. During unstructured play, children learn to solve problems, interact with others, discover their world, experiment with their own abilities, and adapt to new circumstances. It has been proven that children who experience lots of playtime become happier and more successful adults.
Childhood is deceptively serious business. We are, after all, creating the adults of the future.
As John Connolly wrote, “In every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” What kind of adult will your child become?