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6 Parent Tips - Building Happiness in Children's Lives - from Tal Ben Shahar

By Yvette Vignando - 27th September 2010

I like reading articles and research about what makes people happy. I read them with a critical eye for over-the-top advice that no-one could use and try to find things that are practical and sound like common sense. Along with a heavy dose of love, 'good' parenting mostly comes down to that I think - common sense - but because I'm so interested in the human psyche, I can't stop myself reading about people and happiness and feelings.

A Harvard professor, Tal Ben Shahar’s class on happiness was apparently the most popular on campus. No wonder – who doesn’t want to know more about that? Ben Shahar says that if we learn to accept our feelings as natural part of life, notice and be grateful for the positive aspects of our lives and build in moments of longer rest and recovery, we can increase our feelings of happiness. How can I apply this to children?

Ben-Shahar sets out a number of tips on his website and I've translated them here into what I think this means for parenting skills and happier children:

6 Tips for Happy Children

1. Allow your children to notice the full range of feelings they have: from anger to excitement and from despair to joy. Use words to label these feelings for them and reassure them that they are a normal part of being a human being. (Teaching them how to express feelings appropriately is another set of skills.) An example would be to say “Now Eliza, I can see that you're very angry about your brother taking your book out of your room without asking. It's an annoying feeling when you have already asked him not to………”(but)...

2. Find activities that your children can take part in that are fun and space them through the week. Every now and again try to also find a meaningful activity for them. For example, encourage them to help an elderly person to do something, make a small donation to a charity, share something special that is needed by a friend, or participate in a sporting event that raises money for charity.

3. Teach your children that the glass is half full, not half empty. Essentially, this is teaching children the skill of taking an optimistic view of their lives. When your children experience a failure, for example at sport, acknowledge and normalise their feelings of disappointment. Help your children to see that the failure is a temporary event (not a permanent reflection on their abilities). Point out any realistic positives you can see in the situation and help them to look forward to a different result next time.

4. Help your children to do less! You have probably read this before, but please don’t cram your children’s days full of so many activities that they never have time to just “be”. A good sign that you're succeeding in reducing their “busy-ness” is if they occasionally say “I’m bored”. Let them find a solution to a quiet space in their day - a bit of boredom often leads to a creative and new form of play or relaxation. Ben- Shahar says we “compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much”.

5. Make sure you children have plenty of sleep, plenty of exercise and a healthy diet. Low levels of fitness, being over-tired and poor nutrition make it very difficult for your children to enjoy their days and be creative and energetic members of the family.

6. Teach your children to appreciate the good things in their life. Martin Seligman recommends that you take a couple of minutes each day as your child goes off to sleep to ask them what was good or great or happy about their day. Most nights before our 8 year old goes to sleep I ask him “What was something happy about your day.” Or “What was something you had fun doing today?” If I forget to ask, he usually reminds me to ask him. This skill is the skill of gratitude.

Thanks to Ben-Shahar for a good summary and some good common sense reminders about parenting for happy and successful children.

image Francesco Marino freedigitalphotos.net