The first parenting book I ever really delved into was raising HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Christine Carter, PH.D. The title alone and what it was offering me – the holy grail of HAPPINESS for myself, with a side of joyful children — was just too much to pass up on.
Before you have kids, you have all of these expectations and ideas of what “it” will be like – meaning parenthood. Additionally, you have these images of how you will be and how your child will be. For most of us our visualizations are clear, clean, and drenched in beauty, smiles, and laughter. Unfortunately, we are then smacked in the face with the reality of life with children which is typically unclear, messy, quite sloppy, and often drenched in confusion.
Self-help books have always been my jam. They just speak to me and I typically get really wrapped up in them. That being said, I am not one to just read for the sake of reading, and if a book (or a portion or chapter thereof) is not speaking to me, then I simply give more of my attention to what it is that I find more important. Another thing that I do, which some find strange, is that I read with a pen in my hand and am constantly underlining, marking, and writing in the book. Why do I do this? Well for me, I like to be able to easily refer to the book when I need a refresher. Instead of having to scan the whole book to find the information or advice I am looking for, I can refer to my notes scribbled within the pages.
Here is what I deemed to be the most important pieces of advice from raising HAPPINESS:
#1. “Personality is not predetermined at birth, and neither is happiness.”
What does this mean? It means that our parental behavior majorly affects our children’s ultimate emotional outlook on life.
#2. You need to focus on the fact that if you “teach your kids the skills they need to be happy” then “you’ll become happier yourself in the process.”
How do we put this into action? By understanding and teaching our children that happiness is not something they are born with, nor is it something they can buy. “Happy” is also not something that people just plain are, rather it is an artistry that you can learn. So, what skills do our children need to be happy? Mindfulness, gratefulness, compassion, the ability to empathize, and the willingness to give are just some to name a few; and in modeling those for our children, we will have become more blissful ourselves.
#3. “The quality of a marriage is a huge component of parents’ happiness and it can have a huge influence on your children.”
What does this mean? It means that the condition of your marriage is and does have an impact on your children. Take care of your marriage and your partner; it will benefit you individually, your relationship, and your children. Far too often parenthood has the effect of straining a marriage, when what your children really need is for the marriage to be sturdy and unbreakable. If you want happy kids, then “get yourself — and your marriage if you’ve got one — to a happier place”.
#4. “When I do what it takes for my own happiness, my children will reap the benefits.”
How do we put this into action? By understanding that mom and dad’s joy do not have to be put on the back burner for the “sake of the children”, and realizing that a happy parent is more beneficial to a child than one who is melancholy or “down in the dumps”. So, take the time to take care of yourself by doing what makes you happy — exercise, take a long shower, write in your journal, go out with friends — do what brings you pleasure and know that being a parent should never stop you from such.
#5. “If we want our children to lead happy and meaningful lives, they need skills that will enable them to foster strong friendships, including the ability to deal with conflict by doing more than avoiding it.”
What does this mean? It means that conflict can be a good thing and that we shouldn’t always simply break up our kids’ disputes. Alternatively, we should be teaching them how to resolve conflicts with empathy. As the parent, our role is to mediate not dictate, and we can accomplish this by encouraging them to breathe, think, relax, feel, express, analyze, and move on. “Each time we help kids resolve conflict themselves, they learn to solve problems in ways that make them feel competent and effective.”
#6. “The key to raising kind children is to give them a broad vocabulary–to teach them many ways to be kind and generous people.”
How do we put this into action? By modeling kindness ourselves, and by being vocally inspirational to children. When we model and speak of kindness to our children, they will be more inclined to think beyond themselves when they are exposed to things or people in need.
#7. “Clearly send the message that effort is more important than achievement.”
What does this mean? It means that we need to encourage our children to practice hard and practice consistently. “Expect effort and enjoyment; not perfection.” And, when you do praise effort, be sure that you are praising what will help them grow; praise the task of learning.
#8. “Downtime, rest, play — and sometimes quitting — are not indulgences or a waste of time. They are necessary for strength and growth.”
How do we put this into action? By not overloading our children and their schedule with organized activities, and by not directing their play. We do more to encourage our children’s development by allowing them to embrace their own unique and creative ideas, thoughts, and behaviors as opposed to forcing them into a box we arbitrarily decided they should fit in.
#9. “We need to make sure that all of our kids’ fantasies don’t come true”.
What does this mean? They need to experience failure — it is very important. If we do not allow for them to face obstacles and challenges, then they will grow up believing that they live in a “magic land” where there is no sadness and no disappointment. A complete alternate reality than real-life.
#10. “Parents also need to emotion-coach their kids, teaching them to cope with emotions such as anger, anxiety and fear.”
How do we put this into action? By not assuming that your child is purposefully being a pain when they are having a tantrum or meltdown. Understand that your role as their parent is to send the message to them that all of their feelings are being validated, even the negative ones. Each time our child expresses to us a less than positive emotion, we should be taking that opportunity to learn more about them and their inner workings, as well as to educate them on how to deal with less than pleasant emotions.
Ultimately, raising happiness is really not all that complicated. Sadly though, for a lot of us, we think that it is — or rather, we say raising happiness is “too hard” because we simply are worn out, emotionally and physically, from challenges that go along with parenting. Well, here is your pat on the back, your gentle push from behind, and for some of you, a bop on your head. Additionally, I will leave you with some simple things raising HAPPINESS suggests you do to be positively involved in your kids’ lives:
- ” Take the time to talk with them.” This means full listening; not distracted listening.
- ” Teach them how to do something you love”. You will both feel inspired.
- ” Encourage and support their activities and interests.” Whether or not you like it or understand it does not matter.
- “Supervise them” and offer help whenever needed.
- “Run errands with them.” Meaningful conversations — even quick ones, can have a big impact.
- “Find your common interests.”
- “Be reliably available”.
- “Spend time playing with them.”
- “Show affection and love.”
I have only scratched the surface of the lessons in this book. It is really worth your time to read if you enjoy “mastering” the craft of parenting. And really, I would even say that so much of the parenting advice in this book can be translated to relationships and interactions with all people, not just children.
So, would you say that you have been raising Happiness, or maybe you have merely been settling for anything but raising Cain? I can certainly understand both of these routes at times. But I encourage you, and myself, to find the best ways to set the stage for happiness — our own and our children’s — amidst the often chaotic, muddled, and hilarious nature of parenthood.
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