Parents are always worrying about their children, but they often need to be reminded that there are certain things a mother and father are not responsible for. A child’s happiness, for example, is not the responsibility of the parents. Yahoo spoke to Katie Hurley, author of The Happy Kid Handbook, to learn more about the subject. “You are not in charge of making your kids happy—your job is to empower them with the tools, time, and space to be kids so that they learn how to take control of their own joy,” explains Hurley. How can parents achieve this goal? Here are eight ways to raise happy kids in today’s chaotic world.
- Trust your gut. “With parenting advice, it’s important to step back and do a gut check—will this approach work for us?” says Hurley, adding that “it’s okay to do a little of one thing and a little of another; you don’t have to be 100% committed to one parenting method.”
- Step back and observe your kid. When your children are very young, watch how they play and relate to others. Don’t pass any judgement on what they are doing. If they don’t talk to anyone at the sandbox, that's okay. Simply understand their natural instincts and you'll be better equipped to lead them toward situations and environments that appeal to their personality.
- Acknowledge feelings. Allow toddlers and preschoolers to express themselves and what they're feeling. If they fall and cut a knee, don’t say "Don’t cry." Instead, tell them, "Wow, that looks like it really hurt. I know it stings." Let them know you understand and they will feel better.
- Cultivate unstructured play. Slow down and don’t overschedule your children. “We’re doing tot soccer at age 2! Watch that from afar and you’ll see how absurd it is. Two-year-olds need blocks and a puzzle—that’s it,” says Hurley.
- Introduce empathy. When you see a boy at the park throwing a temper tantrum, ask your child, "Why is he mad? What is happening with him?"
- Give kids some control. Giving children the chance to be change-makers builds confidence. Collect food for a food bank or donate clothes; these projects will teach them to care for others. “Practicing positive social behaviors helps kids internalize empathy as part of a broader positive framework for the world,” says Hurley.
- Teach tools to combat stress. Have them write down what they're angry about and then rip up the paper. Have them breathe in slowly for four seconds and then blow out for four seconds. Tell them to imagine they're blowing up a balloon.
- Be okay with bad feelings. Even the happiest kids aren’t happy all the time. "Sometimes we will fall, or someone will be mean, or we’ll fail in some way—the key is for kids to know that it doesn’t mean they have to be unhappy forever. You want them to think 'I can work through this and I’ll start to feel good again,'" Hurley says.