If I asked you, ‘what is the ONE thing you want for your children?’, your unequivocal answer would be ‘happiness’. Here are some top tips for being a great parent and raising happy children:
Ditch the grumpy parent
Be the best parent you can be every night when you get in from work or they get home from school. Often after a busy day when you stumble through the door and are greeted by your family, this is when ‘grumpy parent’ can appear. ‘Give me five minutes won’t you, PLEASE!’ But literally you only need to give them two minutes… step through the door and shout ‘I’m home, come get me’ will indeed prompt the same reaction and you can give them a full two minutes hugs and questions, ooooo’s and aaahhh’s then they will scurry away happy for the time being! Try it, it’s really that simple.
Praise your children for their effort rather than their ability
So, for example, if they get a good grade in maths don’t say ‘Genius, you are the next Einstein.’ Do say, ‘Brilliant! That shows what you can achieve with hard work.’
Raise your enthusiasm
How we behave in a moment of triumph and joy makes a huge difference in either building or undermining relationships. Broadly speaking, parents need to be ‘active constructive’, which means celebrating success with genuine enthusiasm. I’m not suggesting an over the top punching of the air celebration for every smidgen of good news, but a raising of your levels of enthusiasm means you won’t miss out on so many glorious relationship building opportunities. The ‘active constructive’ reaction is completely brilliant on all sorts of levels. The message is they’re proud and you’re proud. Your active constructive response means they know you’re proud. Best of all, you’ve engineered it so you know they know you’re proud.
If you have small children, practise what Gretchen Rubin calls ‘gazing lovingly’
This means downing tools at the end of the evening and standing at your children’s bedroom door, watching them sleep. (Only with your own kids though, and there is an age limit of 10. After that, the general rule is that you NEVER go in your kids’ bedrooms, just in case!)
Read a bedtime story to your kids like it was the most exciting book in the world
And note, it is doubly important for sons to see their dads reading books.
Give the gift of time
As humans we have an average lifespan of 4000 weeks, so time is precious and short. The trick is to spend it wisely. Children won’t remember what you bought them but they do remember ‘times together’. This time, once gone, can never be regained. With our children we don’t realise either how fast this time goes; one minute you are changing their nappy and the next you are crying as you pack them off to university or travelling the world.
Any family is only as happy as their least happy child
Rather than avoiding them, invest time with your children and be genuinely interested in what they’re up to.
Never pay your children for exam results
Let’s examine the sub-text of your well-meaning ‘payment by results’ system. What you are effectively saying is, ‘I understand that studying is a horrible thing to do. And I appreciate that you will only do it for money,’ and bang goes their love of learning. You are teaching them (albeit innocently and subconsciously) that learning is a chore.
A lot of people beat themselves up about what they’re not good at to the point that it stops them celebrating what they are good at. As a parent, it’s important that you are a strengths spotter.
A study by Hart and Risley suggested that by age 4, children raised in poor families will have heard 32 million fewer words than children raised in professional families. To add to the woe, it’s not just quantity, it’s also the emotional tone. So please speak a lot and, where possible, couch your language in the 8:1 ratio of positive to negative. Say instead of ‘how was school?’ why not upgrade to ‘what was the highlight of your day?’ or ‘what was the funniest or most amazing thing you’ve done today?’ Say it like you mean it and, of course, properly listen to the answer. You will be rewarded with an increased likelihood of a positive conversation.
Turn off your electronic devices and spend more time with your real flesh and blood family
Happiness is a social thing.
Practise the four minute rule
This is a phrase that came from a guru friend of mine, Steve McDermott, and I love its simplicity. Basically, your emotions are contagious. They leak out of you and ‘infect’ your family around you. So, when you make the conscious choice to be positive and upbeat, it takes four minutes for other family members to catch it too. So be enthusiastic for 4 minutes and everyone else will feel great too!
Don’t take them for granted
If you write a list of 10 things you really appreciate but take for granted, your family will almost certainly be on there. So stop taking them for granted!
Remember how important your positivity is
When you’re thinking of passing down your inheritance, be sure to remember that it’s not just a lump of cash and a bit of jewellery. You are passing down habits, knowledge, mind-sets and cognitive traits. Your positivity can set your child up for life!
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