In this article I wanted to talk about how to raise happy kids without falling in to the trap of providing happiness
I Just want my child to be happy.
Hello, and welcome to this article. I seem to be developing a habit of calling out the traps. While it is not a language I normally use, I can see these habits in a lot of my work and sometimes, a flashy title helps people understand the concept better.
In the previous article, we talked about the fairness trap. It is not fair! Your kid making of right and wrong or fairness a battle and parents failing to keep up.
In this article I want to call your attention over another topic, the sympathy trap. I am conscious many of you will read this and think I am a cold-blooded person, or a parent/coach out of the nineteen centuries. Well, I am not. I consider myself a tremendously caring person with very modern and well-trained views on parenting and supporting young children.
So, let’s start from the beginning.
When I ask parents, what is that they want for their children, everybody says the same: I just want them to be happy.
so far so good.
So, as modern parents, how do we go about having happy kids?
In my experience, I have noticed a confusion between
– Helping and supporting our children to be happy
– Giving them happiness.
What is the difference?
For me, the first is the role of an educator. The parent helps the children understand and learn how to make decision, what is right/wrong and how they can achieve their own goals.
The second, is the role of a provider. I give the children what they need to be happy kids or what they and/or I think they need to be happy.
In the hundreds of conversations, I have with parents, I haven’t seen yet one that admits doing the second more than the first, however their behaviour is very different from their thoughts. Think about how many times you had to go back to school because your child forgot their homework, or the notes written to the teacher excusing the kid from something they don’t feel like doing.
On a more extreme side, think about all those side-lines football parents. How they shout and confront referees or coaches because they are being unfair to their children.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The second is a lot easier than the first. The main reason is because we feel more in control of the outcome. If I go and complain to the school/teacher I am certain I will pull my weight and they will do something about my kid. However, if I work with my child to prepare him for a conversation with his teacher, he might be taken for a ride and nothing will change.
Before we go any further. I want to share something that I see as fundamental in my work as a life coach for children and teenagers. Just bear in mind that these ideas (age groups) will vary depending on the maturity of the kid.
Fundamentally, this theory (which I learn ages ago but can’t seem to find where I learnt it) says that in our early years we evolve in chunks of three years (0-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15. 16+). What I have observed is that the kids needs from us vary significantly in each of those stages, however we are not always ready to adapt our role.
Here is a brief summary of what I think is important in each stage to support happy kids. Of course, it is for you to assess and decide. My main goal is to prompt you to think on how your role change as they change.
0 to 3 years old
We provide a nurturing safe space for our children. We care for them, their education, their social interaction and we surround them with love.
4 to 6 years old
The child starts school and socialise more. We provide them with academic and social support. We spend time talking to parents and teachers to ensure they are surrounded by great people and they have the best experience possible in this important formative years for supporting happy
If there is a problem (i.e. friendship issues) they tend to be small and reasonably “easy” (for the lack of a better word) to resolve. We talk to them, talk to the teacher or whoever to resolve it and restores their happiness.
I see as critical that we start talking to them about choices and options. This will be in an age relevant way and only on the topics that are suitable to them. However, this can also be brought up when conflict happens
A couple of examples:
– “I know you are upset for us not doing what you wanted, you have the choice to continue being upset and we will probably get upset as well, or you have the choice to understand our decision.”
“You know it is your bed time. You have the option of going to bed, or reading in bed for a few minutes. It is your choice”
I always advice parents to provide a limites number of choices for them to think about. Two is ideal, but you can suggest three if needed. All those options will be aligned with your primary goal. Giving them a sense of ownership and responsibility will build mutual trust.
7-9 years old
Things are starting to get more difficult. The social interactions (best friends, birthday parties, etc) are getting more complex. The dynamic is changing. Academic (school and homework) are becoming more demanding and we really want them to be successful, happy kids in all those areas. We spend loads of time with them, we talk to the football coach, spent hours in cold weather watching them play football. Tell them how great they are, buy them new sports kit, provide tutoring and aim to give them great birthday parties and christmas is again full of joy for us.
At this time, we also start noticing how some of our effort is not being appreciated. That expensive toy they wanted, sits there unused for weeks. There are some more arguments around about work, decisions or bed time. The child start sharing what other parents do (aren’t they all better than you? They give them more money, buy them more expensive stuff or allow them to have much more freedom). Yet, we aim to compensate that and provide our best for them. If we need to stop treating ourselves to something, we’ll gladly do it and they will have what they need to succeed.
Yet, every now and then we have the doubt of saying: why am I pushing myself? Is it really being appreciated? But we dismiss those thoughts and continue our taxi driver duty to take them to every possible activity, our teacher duty to ensure they have the work well for next day, cooking and cleaning duty is a given. We just want them to be well, happy kids and to give them all the possibilities to succeed
I think this stage is crucial (as well as the next) to educate our children in decision making and choices. It is important to set some balance between them and us. to ensure the accept our efforts and recognise them, not desiring praise or constant positive comments about our great parenting efforts, but as a recondition that everybody in the family have their role and responsibilities.
At this age, children are now realising they are not toddlers anymore. They have mixed feelings between all the comfort they had when being a young boy or girl and the desire to start testing their independence. It is our role to help them realise they are growing up and they have a lot to look forward to.
10-12 years old
Big change to secondary school and becoming pre-teens. Their social life is taking off. The possible concerns are more marked and there are great highs and big lows.
Our role is pretty much the same as in the group before (provide everything they need) but the demands are becoming more difficult to meet.
If you remember one thing from this stage: teach them decision making. This means, help them assess what’s happening, what the possible solutions or outcomes, help them identify what is the right criteria to make a choice (within their area of responsibility. You have yours, they have theirs) and take ownership of making it happen and the consequences of it. Expanding autonomy and responsibility from this stage is important in developing thriving, happy kids.
At this age, hey might choose to stop learning music, or give up football. You have taken them so far, now they can make their own choice. If they chose to give up something, feel happy you exposed them to it. You can continue exposing them to new choices (new sports, new activities, etc) but, in my view, it is now their decision.
As mentioned several times. This has to be put in the context of what areas they can chose and what areas are off limit for them. For instance, going to school is not a choice they can take. Where to go on holidays, can be brought up for discussion but it is the parent’s choice as it involve finances and time (both of them precious). However, giving up flute, mandating or karate can be their choice.
My rule of thumb is: if I feel they gave it enough opportunities to make a decision, I will let them make it.
The more they learn about decision, the better prepared they will be for the next stage.
13-16 years old
Independence. Happy kids want to do things on their own and we allow them to take freedom. They have a nice mobile phone, they have money to buy clothes or go out with their friends. Most children will be perfectly loving and have a solid social and academic environment, however from time to time the arguments come up. The social interactions are way more difficult than anytime before, the potential conflict seems to be out of our reach to help them with. As parents, it is fair to say that we might feel out of our depth in how to help them deal with situations.
This stage is in critical combination with the previous. Independence comes with responsibly and decision making. They will only make good use of their independence if they have learnt to make choices, to understand what is right for them and what they won’t accept.
I am aware what I will write next might scare you, but I think it’s important for you to see it this way.
When you sweet boy or girl is 14yo, they will go out with their friends. They will go to the park after school, they will start coming home later, some friends will have parties and they will be invited. As neither you nor them what them to feel the odd one out, they will go to some of those parties. You won’t be there. Maybe even no other adult will be there.
Other kids, will bring alcohol, or pull out a joint of weed. They will offer it and pass it around.
They might start flirting and having some sort of emotional relationship.
In all those moments and many more, they will have to make decisions, the hardest ever as they will be under peer pressure (omg, they are all having a go a the vodka, maybe I should do it as well). The only way to help them make the right decision, is to help them learn about decision making and the responsibility that comes with their independency.
As you can imagine, I can continue writing forever, especially about helping parents to raise thriving, happy kids. But as a way of finishing this article, I wanted to leave you with a simple thought.
There is an outdoor clothing company called Berghaus.
Their tag line is: Trust is earned.
I believe my role is to educate children to be able to earn the trust they desire.
I hope you found this article useful. Please continue reading other articles and let me know your thoughts. The beauty is in the combined learning, every article will provide further information and different perspectives. Then you can chose how to go about it.