Just finished Raising Happiness by Dr. Christine Carter! Wouldn’t you say that the title is brilliant? What parent doesn’t often say, “I just want my kids to be happy”? Dr. Carter claims that it just takes “10 simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents”. When you start reading you will notice that there are only 10 chapters (hence the 10 simple steps), but there are many suggestions, recommendations and tips in each chapter! So I realized that you just can’t do 10 things and yay everyone in your family will be much happier.
So I marked this book up with so many pink, sticky post-it-notes that Jose laughed at me, my doctor laughed at me (but I flipped the cover because I didn’t want to concern her as she was about to check in on my third child) and Diego said, “Wow Mommy! Lots of bookmarks! You want to remember all of that?” Kinda. Of course I marked 18 little sections that I thought were interesting to review, practice or continue practicing in our lives and pass it on to you. And I am not suggesting you are raising unhappy children. I don’t think I am… but when I reviewed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, my friend Vanessa suggested I now read Raising Happiness. So I am now going over my crazy notes (just look below) and in a nut shell, I will attempt to help you raise happier children (if you want to know more…click on the image of the book at the top of this post and order)!
So shall we? This is what I gained from 185 pages of great advice:
1. It doesn’t matter if your kids are newborns or teenagers. This book will help you find happy solutions for all kinds of negative feelings going on in your life. Dr. Carter is divorced and raising two girls so the family dynamic doesn’t have to be perfect to have happy kids.
2. One must live in the present moment with children. Their world should be our world. Don’t brush off little things that don’t seem important (like watching them perform a skit for you). To them…it might mean the world!
3. Take care of yourself. This is pretty much chapter one. If we are not happy, no one is happy. We already knew that right? But how do we make time for ourselves? Little things: practice being grateful (write in a journal, pray, meditate, do yoga). Don’t let shopping fool you into thinking that makes you happy (it’s not lasting happiness). Get a manicure, a pedicure or just a cup of coffee by yourself in silence.
4. It takes a village. I talk about this a lot don’t I? And Dr. Carter says, “If I have to pick the one thing that matters most to human happiness, I would say that our relationships with other people matter more than anything else.” We have to teach our children the skills they need to make and keep friends. We also have to teach our children to have relationships with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers, coaches…all the people it takes to help raise a child. Socially intelligent kids simply flourish.
5. Dads need to be involved. I was a bit surprised that Dr. Carter didn’t offer any suggestions if there is no dad present in a child’s life. But to be fair, the suggestions for helping a dad become more involved is in Chapter 2: Build a Village. So dads are part of the village and if so kids tend to do better in school, have better vocabularies, are happier and have better social skills. That is if dad is actively participating in their children’s lives.
6. Don’t expect perfection from your kids. Embrace failures. Parents want to always stop a mistake from happening. I do this a lot. We must remember that kids won’t learn anything from our constant “rescues” such as fixing homework mistakes (or doing the projects ourselves) and delivering things to school the child forgot at home. We should help them figure out what went wrong when a mistake was made.
7. Don’t try to be perfect…yourself. Number 6 and 7 here fall in Chapter 3: Expect Effort and Enjoyment, Not Perfection. We. Need. To. Let. Go. Especially me! Bounce back after making a mistake in front of your kids. Say, “Oh, no big deal…I just learned that___by making this mistake.” Modeling behavior for the perfectionist kid who might be too hard on him or herself when they fail is key.
8. Children should practice gratitude. We are on Chapter Four now! Tons of tips on how to switch from entitlement to gratitude. My favorite: right before going to bed, we talk about 3 things we really appreciated today. Dr. Carter states that children who express gratitude are more enthusiastic and determined, feel 25 percent happier, are more likely to be kind to others and sleep better.
9. We all need to forgive. Simple but it doesn’t mean that your child has to be friends with the school bully. We need to teach children to forgive for themselves, to let go of those angry feelings and move on. When we want revenge, it increases our anger and anxiety (horrible for one’s health).
10. Be optimistic for your children. Kids pick up on our gossip, our negative reaction to the Starbucks barista, our complaints. We must show them that the glass is half-full. We must learn to talk to them when they do something naughty, and show them that something good must come out of a bad experience.
11. “Happy people know how to cope with painful situations and emotions, and they know how to bounce back from them.” We have to raise our children’s emotional intelligence (Chapter 5). It makes sense that if we foster love, are consistent and are positively involved in our children’s lives, our children will be happier. BUT we need to teach our kids how to deal with anger, anxiety and fear. We also need to teach our children how to talk about these emotions.
12. Good feeling rewards instead of material rewards. There are things we all have to do that we don’t want to do…like cleaning the stove or doing laundry. Don’t you feel good when the house is super clean? We can use positive language to help kids do tasks and gain an inner satisfaction for just doing it. Happiness is the reward. Bribing your teenager to do the dishes for ten bucks isn’t helping them develop happy habits. Use positive language to help, “Isn’t it nice how fast you found Buzz today? That’s because we put him in his special spot on the shelf last night.” Or, “thank you for picking up all the toys off the floor. Now we can dance!”.
13. Be firm with your kids and kind. Kids appreciate a little reasoning. I tell Jose that sometimes I am so tired because I talked all day with my kids. I don’t just say no when they desire something not right for the moment. I give them an explanation for why we can’t stop at Starbucks for a chocolate chip cookie or why they can’t watch more TV. I use grown up language and always tell them the truth…in the nicest way possible.
14. Let kids play! Play with them! Go on playdates. Turn off the TV! Let kids use their imagination. We structure so much of our kid’s time these days. Structure some free time…go on!
15. Savor the moment. Yay! I talked about this on one of my first posts here! Stop to smell the roses with your kids, or the bakery section of your grocery store! Point out random things that make you happy to your kids. I have talked to Diego so much about cherry blossoms this season that it has become a little science lesson too!
16. Don’t feel guilty about your child-care. Studies today show that day care and preschool quality matter less in the outcome of your child’s happiness than we think. Except if your child is in an abusive environment, what we do with our children when they are with us matters more for their happiness than when they are at childcare.
17. Money helps but it doesn’t buy happiness. Great chapter on what we already know…but have a hard time letting go. Our children don’t need every toy advertised and all brand name products.
18. Eat dinner together. Or breakfast or lunch or only on the weekends… Develop a schedule where one or both parents are having a meal with the kids. Turn off all electronics and just talk.
Whew! That was a lot huh? I would love to share a story on my next post on what I have been working on with Diego…the grumpiest, saddest person I have ever seen go to a table full of delicious homemade or restaurant food. It has made my happiest time the hardest time of our day.
Raising Happiness isn’t about assuming some families are completely in the dumps. I found 18 strong recommendations from Dr. Carter that I thought were so worthwhile to share as I am trying some of these tips myself. You might pick up 18 completely different bits of information by reading this book. As you ponder this today, I will also be writing about why is all this so important? Do we need to be happy all the time? So come back soon! I hope you enjoyed my list today and please feel free to share with other parents. But I want to know-what is making your kids happy?