Happiness For Dummies
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Happiness can be taught just as easily as unhappiness. Your own actions will serve as a lesson to your children. Helping your child learn what it takes to achieve happiness is a parental gift that keeps on giving.

Make sure your happy message gets through

Listen to your child and adapt your language to hers. If your child can’t understand you, he can’t learn from you. Focus on the message you’re trying to convey to your child, and then figure out the best way — not the most complicated way or the most technical way — to convey that message.

Show your child that generosity and happiness begins at home

The smallest of children can learn the joy of giving. At the holidays, when you see people ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, give your little one a little money to put in the kettle, and let him be the one to drop it in. (Put some money in yourself, too, so he sees that giving is something you value, too.)

Engage in generous activities as a family. And when your child does something generous, be sure to let him know how proud you are of him.

Help your child be a happy loser

Don’t let your child grow up thinking that happiness is tied to winning — it’s not. But if your child thinks it is, he’ll hate himself and be unhappy when he loses. So how do most kids get the crazy idea that winning is everything? From their parents.

If you charge out onto the ball field and scream at your child when he loses a game, you’re teaching him that winning matters more than anything.

Some parents believe that it’s wrong — in fact, psychologically damaging — to beat their kids at a game. Don’t fall prey to this notion. It’s just as important to show him that losing isn’t the end of the world.

Allow for imperfections to be happy

If you insist on having a perfect child, you’ll only end up disappointed and unhappy — and your child will see that disappointment in your eyes.

All human beings have flaws, warts, frailties, and imperfections that, along with certain unique talents, define our personalities. Kids need to know that there is no such thing as perfection.

Your child needs you to give her a break now and then. She needs to hear you say, “I love you. No one is perfect.”

Let your child see you happy

Emotions are contagious. If your child sees you looking sad and unhappy all the time, she’ll most likely end up feeling the same way. The good news is that the same is true for happiness: If your kid sees that you’re happy, she’ll likely be happier. Children need to see you smile and they need to hear you laugh. Kids are like sponges: They soak up everything around them.

Be your child’s happiness coach

As the first influential adult in your child’s life, you have a unique opportunity to be his emotional coach. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Make raising a happy child your primary goal. Put happiness ahead of other important goals.

  • Be active and hands-on when you’re interacting with your child. Take your kid places where you’re happy and explain to him what it is about this place that makes you happy.

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait until you see that you child is unhappy before you do something about it.

Distinguish between needs and wants to teach happiness

Human needs are few: air, water, food, shelter. The rest of life is made up of wants. Your kid may want to spend endless hours playing video games. Believe it or not, every kid also wants to find some way to elicit the love and approval of her parents.

Your job as a parent is to help your child find acceptable and effective ways to satisfy her wants so she can have some hope of being happy. You need to show her which wants — to be the “boss” in children’s games, having the last word in family discussions — will not bring joy to her life.

Teach your child happiness through mastery

The most unhappy children are the lost children; misfits in a world where all the other kids are good at something and they’re not. They have no discernable adaptive skills, they’re not aware of their own talents, they’ve never been taught how to problem-solve — so, all that’s left is their anger.

Here are just some of the things you can help your child be a master of:

  • Reading

  • Writing

  • Playing well with others

  • Being interested in what other children want or like

  • Coloring within the lines

  • Studying

  • Being respectful of others

  • Playing sports

  • Leading

  • Playing a musical instrument

  • Competing

Encourage all forms of play to teach happiness

Play is a major source of happiness for children as well as adults. Not only does it make children happy, but it serves as the foundation of a human being’s social development.

Here are the main forms of happiness:

  • Solitary play: Sitting quietly and entertaining herself with some object or age-appropriate activity.

  • Parallel play: Playing alongside another child.

  • Associative play: Playing with another child.

Children also need to be exposed to competitive play as well as cooperative play. They need to play at games with rules and without rules.

Teach your child happiness through commitment and perseverance

Two of the most invaluable lessons a parent can teach a child are commitment and perseverance. Allow your child to be someone who is resilient and self-reliant; fully committed to life. Encourage your child to explore possibilities — try out for the track team or the debate team.

Perseverance means not being a quitter. You need to give your child a chance to finish something important, to feel the sense of pride and accomplishment that only comes at the end.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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