One of the biggest desires for any parent is to ensure that their child is happy. While rates of anxiety, depression and suicide continue to reach their highest levels among children, adolescents and young adults, there are a number of shared characteristics that families possess that often lead to higher levels of reported happiness. Let’s explore 9 ways that parents can increase their child’s capacity to experience happiness.
1. Creativity: Kids who have opportunities to be more creative generally report higher levels of happiness. Creativity does not have to revolve around only art…..creative play and recreational activities that don’t revolve around strict rule following can contribute to creativity. Kids that have opportunities to free play, particularly when that play is physically or mentally engaged and challenging, tend to feel more accomplished and that they are responsible for their achievements. Current research demonstrates that creative thinking may enhance well-being by enhancing cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities, providing individuals with an important sense of mastery and agency, and helping individuals perceive benefits after going through adversity. Looking for opportunities to elicit creative opportunities for your kids? The Great Good has steps on making a home one that nurtures and encourages such creativity and expression.
2. Less Structured Free Time: There is a great amount of wisdom in the adage that kids and adolescents benefit from structure. The idea that people benefit from expectations and that kids, in particular, can develop executive functioning through planning and structure is helpful. However, over the past few years, research has indicated that overstructuring time and not allowing for kids and adolescents to have unstructured free time may be detrimental to, ironically, their ability to develop executive functioning skills. Furthermore, the ability for younger people to create their own fun be able to sit with themselves actually drives creative thought, daydreaming and higher levels of brain activity.
3. Family Meals at Consistent Times: Can meals that are both consistent in time and consumed with family actually increase happiness? Absolutely, according to researchers at Penn State University. Not only do family meals provide a good opportunity to model consistent behavior for kids around communication, openness and values, they can also provide an expected point of contact each day that give families a chance to check in. Further evidence demonstrates that family meals open lines of communication, bolster kids’ self-confidence, improve school performance and strengthen family bonds.
4. Allowing Kids & Adolescents The Opportunity To Make and Correct Mistakes: Ask any adult, few things provide memorable, illustrated lessons like making mistakes. Natural consequences can be, far and away, the greatest teacher of life-long lessons. If possible, when people have the capacity and opportunity to remedy those mistakes, the lesson can be learned and reinforced through successful negotiation of a resolution. It can be painful to watch kids make mistakes, particularly when we can see a difficult outcome through years of experience and wisdom (and often living through the same mistakes!). While it is certainly unnecessary to allow our kids to make mistakes that can be avoided, natural consequences can provide teaching opportunities and help develop capabilities and opportunities to either fix the mistake or manage it better next time. When parents ‘undo’ mistakes like doing homework for kids, stepping in to fix manageable interpersonal dilemmas rather than helping kids consider how to do it themselves or replacing items that are carelessly lost or broken, we may also ‘undo’ powerful lessons that allow unpleasant historical problems to reoccur.
5. Role Models That Share Values: Role models can be enormous influences in children and adolescents’ lives. While it can be difficult when kids idolize someone who may not share values parents enjoy, they can provide worthwhile occasions to discuss values, understand and demonstrate acceptance without agreement and provide opportunities that are meaningful when the role model is an actual versus virtual relationship such as a coach, teacher and parent. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has provided guidelines for parents and families around discussing values and role models, whether such role models share the characteristics that we want our child or family to share or not.
6. Sleep: While most adults would concede that getting a good night’s sleep benefits their mood the following day, sleep is one of the easiest things to ‘put off until tomorrow’ when work, stress or responsibilities increase. That does not, however, make it any less important. Achieving less sleep than needed on a regular basis can contribute to clinical levels of depression and anxiety that are 10 and 17 times more prevalent, respectively, than those who achieve regular, health sleeping patterns. The National Sleep Foundation has developed 11 recommendations to assist with establishing healthy sleep routines and hygiene.
7. Happy Parents Are More Likely To Have Happy Kids: Children and adolescents are incredibly sensitive to their parent’s affect, attitude and levels of stress and are more likely to have such attributes affect their own levels of joy. Parents who have strong relationships with one another, manage stress individually and as a couple well, prioritize social relationships and demonstrate self care tend to both be happier themselves and, as a result, have kids that report higher levels of family satisfaction and joy. Finding a balance between shielding kids from parent stress and having open discussions when stress is higher and self care is challenging yet important.
8. Kids, Pets and Caretaking: There are numerous benefits of pet ownership for families, including responsibility. However, recent research has also indicated that there are particular benefits that impact kids and adolescents. A review of 22 research studies found evidence for an association between pet ownership and a wide range of emotional health benefits from childhood pet ownership, particularly impacting self-esteem and easing loneliness. The studies also demonstrated an integral association between pet ownership and educational and cognitive benefits, including perspective-taking abilities and intellectual development. Studies focusing on the impact of pet ownership and social development provided evidence for increased social competence, social networks, social interaction and social play behavior.
9. Contribution and Volunteering: We can imagine wanting to include kindness on a list of attributes that most parents would endorse for their kiddos. It turns out that acts of kindness that culminate in contribution or volunteering have dynamic and profound benefits, particularly for children and adolescents. Contributing to others has been shown to help people feel stronger, more energized, have an increased feeling of self worth and report fewer symptoms of depression. While significant research has documented the health aspects around acts of kindness for adults, there is compelling evidence that children and teens who help strangers and family have lower risk factors of behavioral difficulties, substance use, health difficulties and are more likely to attend and complete a college degree.
Do you have suggestions or experience in fostering joy in children, adolescents or young adults? Please place suggestions in the box below…..