The science of happy kids

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Cultivate contentment with these expert-backed parenting ideas.

Happiness is about far more than mood.

“Rather, a happy life is one that is full of lots of different types of positive emotions,” writes Dr Christina Carter in Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.

These emotions may comprise feelings about the past, such as gratitude, forgiveness and appreciation, as well as future-based emotions like optimism, faith and confidence.

Cheerily, science informs us that a child’s environment boasts a 50 per cent influence over the way his or her emotional outlook develops.

Here’s how to create an enriching and happiness-inducing emotional environment for your kids:

1. Encourage emotional literacy

Carter deems emotional literacy – the ability to understand and regulate emotions – as the most important skill for growing into a happy and successful adult.

“Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions for a shorter period of time,” she says.

“Emotionally literate children understand and relate to people better, form stronger friendships, and do better in school.”

To help nurture this skill, talk through bumps in the road, listen with your full attention, make it okay to talk about feelings, work together to solve problems, and show appreciation, love and encouragement through words and affection.

2.Foster a sense of security and love

According to Dr Michelle de Haan from the UK’s Institute of Child Health: “The basic ingredients that make children happy during childhood seem to be the same ones that help them to become happy adults: a secure relationship with parents gives the base to confidently explore the world.” Good relationships, de Haan says, are children’s starting point for happiness.

To look after your parent-child relationship, make time to talk, to regularly enjoy life together and to share your respective worlds. Also share in the decision-making for how to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays.

3. Notice your child’s passion, and foster it

Another important ingredient to a child’s happiness is having something – a skill or interest – that he or she feels they are good at, something that’s noticed and appreciated by friends and family.

Take time to pick up on an activity that your child has a knack for, and encourage him or her to further explore this area of interest. The key here is to avoid adopting a goal-orientated approach.

As Carter explains: “For example, a child who enjoys playing football for the game is likely to be made happier by the experience than one who can only feel happy if the team achieves a win. The tendency to feel that happiness is dependent on achieving particular goals is called ‘conditional goal setting’—‘If I score a goal in the game, then I will be happy’.”

This style of thinking, she says is associated with low mood in both children and adults.” More science-backed ideas for raising happy kids:

  • Make time to care for yourself: a well-grounded and content parent is better placed to grow a child with a similar disposition, according to happiness science information portal, Happify
  • Teach gratitude: “Just by fostering gratitude in your home, you can increase children’s happiness by as much as 25 percent,” says Carter
  • Let kids seek meaning in their lives, too: studies show that giving back to others helps kids feel good about them and about life, says Happify