By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
We as parents possess tremendous power to influence our children for the good; by improving the way we relate to them, we can literally fashion and shape their very emotional health, which is the critical foundation upon which a life of success will be built.
But how do we do this?
The answer is by consistently and consciously raising our child’s happiness level!
In considering how to raise a happy child, we must remember that happiness, pleasure and contentment for children is not an extra plus, it is not just the icing on the cake. It is neither a privilege, nor a right. It is a deep and fundamental need. All children need many hours of intense happiness each and every day in order to grow up healthily. Happiness is the gasoline that gets them through their day, it is the essential prerequisite that fuels all of their success. Childhood is a microcosm of a person’s entire life, therefore to the extent that a child feels happiness, positive experiences, kindness and pleasure in childhood, so he will have lifelong happiness and success. But if he experiences unhappiness, disappointment, stress and conflicted family relationships in childhood, the rest of his life will follow that pattern, unfortunately.
So how to raise a happy child, that is how to raise his contentment level?
This first technique is deceptively simple, yet immensely powerful. We must always strive on a moment-to-moment basis, to consciously and purposely greet our child with a big, warm hearty “Hello!” It is truly amazing what that will do for him! Saying hello to someone is actually a very great act of kindness. It warms and elevates the recipient, and demonstrates for him tremendous respect and love. If you meet someone and give them a warm hello, you will make them just as happy as if you gave them 50 dollars! No exaggeration!
Therefore, whenever you see your child, go out of your way to give him or her the biggest, warmest greeting you can. “Ayyy, David, How are you doing! It’s soooo good to see you! What’s going on? Come over here! Let me give you a hug.” It goes without saying that you should give them the hugest greeting when you pick them up from school. Let’s say she is coming out of the schoolhouse towards you, don’t wait until she gets close to greet her, call out from far away, “Heyyyy, Sarah, Hi! How are you doing! Alright! Come on over here!” Let your greeting extend for the whole 30 seconds it takes the child to get to you. You see, the truth is I’m sure you really love your child and are very happy to see him or her. The trick is, you need to express those feelings outwardly, and let the child know clearly how much you feel that love for him and how much you treasure him.
You must consciously generate tremendous enthusiasm and excitement for that great event in your life: being reunited on a daily basis with your child.
But this does not only apply when you haven’t seen the child all day. Even if let’s say, you are sitting in the living room and the child has been playing in his room and you haven’t seen him for a half an hour, and then he decides to walk into the living room where you, still give him a huge greeting like you haven’t seen him in a long time! “Heyyy, Bobby, What’s up? I’m so happy you came in her to see me! What have you been doing?”
A child is like a small plant, and a happy greeting from a parent is like the light of the sun, under which the child will flourish and thrive.
A warm greeting creates a great feeling of pleasure in the child, and the child learns to associate that great pleasure with the parent herself. He thinks, “Mommy makes me feel good always. I love her. I want to be with her forever.” A warm hello administered on a regular basis creates a tremendous bond between parent and child. Every time you say Hello it is like you put money in the bank, which will absolutely pay you dividends later. What I’m saying is, giving a warm greeting now will actually prevent tantrums and behavior problems from developing later! It will increase the child’s willingness to comply with whatever directions you need to give him. It raises self-esteem and self-respect. It even actually helps to defuse child anxiety, child depression, and ADHD symptoms! Saying hello does wonders for the ever important parent-child relationship, creating a wonderful, loving peaceful atmosphere at home. It will elevate your child so much that he or she becomes an absolute pleasure to be with always!
What’s another amazing tool for how to raise a happy child?
An elevated happiness level in a child is so valuable, that it pays to zealously guard it at all costs! Therefore whenever we need to do what’s called a Parenting Intervention, which means we issue a do or a don’t, stepping in with our parenting authority, we need to first think very carefully, “Is what I am going to say or do right now going to raise my child’s happiness level, or lower it?” If the answer is it will raise it, then that’s great, go right ahead, but if it’s going to lower it, you must first think very carefully and perform a cost/benefit analysis. Is the benefit I am getting out of this Parenting Intervention great enough that it outweighs the negative effects of the lowered happiness level that will also result? There must be a clear net gain, otherwise it simply doesn’t pay.
For example, let’s say a child needs to go to the pediatrician to get some shots.
Now this is very scary and unpleasant for a child, and it will definitely lower his happiness level. But if he doesn’t get the shots, he may get very sick, and that will make him a hundred times more miserable! Therefore in this case you are clearly gaining more than you are losing.
But let’s say you have a 6-year old who likes to jump on the couch,
but you would prefer he didn’t for fear of damaging your expensive furniture. So you have to do a cost/benefit analysis. Get your facts clear. Forbidding him to jump on the couch will definitely make him more unhappy and disappointed. In addition it will require constant reprimands as reminders, and this will negatively impact the parent-child relationship. It can even create what’s called a spiral of lowering happiness, which may lead to tantrums and other misbehavior later. On the other hand if you allow him to jump it will create a great happiness in the child. He will come to associate that happiness with you yourself, thinking, “I love Mommy, she lets me jump on the couch.” It will do wonders for the parent-child relationship, and will actually prevent other potential misbehaviors later. Letting him jump now can actually spiral up into causing for the family an entire pleasant afternoon! However there’s a downside. You love your couch, spend a lot of good money on it, and don’t want to see it ruined. Maybe you are afraid that he will fall and get hurt. Or perhaps you are afraid that he will get into the habit of jumping and will then do it without permission in other peoples’ houses, and that will be embarrassing and impolite.
So I can’t decide the question for you!
You have to really consider the pluses and minuses of each position. I’m only informing you that raising the happiness level, even a little bit, has so many tremendous benefits for the entire family that it really pays to go to any lengths to raise it whenever possible.
Let’s say the children are playing and they are making a lot of noise.
First we need to understand that children are naturally very noisy. It’ normal, healthy and inevitable that they are going to be loud. So if their noise is really bothering you, you need to do a cost/benefit analysis. If you reprimand them for making noise, it will undoubtedly make them feel ashamed of their natural, playful impulses, and that is not good for self-esteem. It will definitely reduce their happiness and can even create stress between parent and child, which will cause problems over time. In addition, even if they quiet down temporarily, they are most likely going to forget after a bit and will require multiple reprimands, which is for sure unhealthy. On the other hand, it can be very difficult for you to have constant noise all day. I might suggest you distract them with a quiet game or activity like reading them a story, or watching TV, or maybe you can go into another room. You have to consider that it just might be less trouble to simply ignore the noise, because reprimanding them will create conflict and bad feelings and that can create much bigger problems later. I can’t tell you what to do, you must consider your choices with great wisdom.
Let’s say a 5-year old doesn’t want to hold hands when you need to cross a street in heavy traffic.
Forcing him to hold hands may make him angry and miserable, but I think it’s clear that you must do it in that circumstance. One technique that may work in that case is to be careful to give in and make the child happy during the couple of blocks leading up to the intersection, then he will be in a much better mood to hold your hand.
The same cost/benefit analysis applies to things like teeth brushing.
Some parents think that getting a cavity is a fate worse than death, it means they are irresponsible and negligent and have failed as parents. I have worked with several parents who feel that way and therefore literally hold their child down, pry open his mouth and force brush his teeth twice a day! Although I agree that teeth brushing is important and we should try and prevent cavities, forcing kids to brush, or creating conflict between parent and child over brushing, is much more damaging to the child’s overall emotional health than a couple of cavities will be to his teeth! Conflict over brushing destroys a child’s sense of self-determination and it will create so many behavior problems! On the other hand, all of his teeth are going to fall out anyway, and even if he does get a few cavities, they can be easily filled if caught in time. Trust me, when he’s 25 he’ll brush his teeth! Therefore, you need to thing very carefully before creating conflict over brushing.
A cost/benefit analysis needs to be made regarding everything, bedtime, bath time, homework and every sort of misbehavior. We must keep the tremendous value of raising the happiness level in mind when making these calculations.
Parenting Counseling the way I do it is very helpful for figuring out this sort of thing.
I don’t tell parents what to do, I have great respect for the parents I work with, and I believe that they possess the innate wisdom to resolve their child’s issues. I just help them develop that wisdom and bring it out into practice, using Socratic questioning. I also use my great experience working with children as a source of information to help parents decide what is the best course of action. Most parents find this sort of personally tailored advice extremely helpful.
Play Therapy, if needed, also goes light years in raising a child’s happiness level, as I have written about in my blog.
Please be advised that the above represents a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to implement it perfectly. So have patience with yourself, and try to implement new ideas gradually.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my website, view my video, or download on of my informative free reports and get on my email list. If you are struggling with how to raise a happy child, and feel the magic of Play therapy and Parenting Counseling is what you need, you may chat with me in the chat box, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!