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3 Steps to Teach Kids How to be Happy

March 6, 2014 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

It’s Purim time, is everyone happy? If not, try these tools with your kids.

Purim is right around the corner. It is one of our most joyous holidays. There is a lot of talk of happiness, but are we truly happy? Are our kids truly happy?

Happiness is not acquiring the latest gadget, the prettiest wife, the newest car, the biggest house or the best job. Experts conclude that being happy is a state of mind.

According to Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: “The essential factor whether or not you will live a happy life is not based so much on external factors such as wealth success or fame but on your attitude towards life, towards yourself, towards other people and towards events and situations.”

So how do we teach this attitude to our kids?

1. Role modeling:

In Martin Seligman’s book, The Optimistic Child, he states the importance of children having good role models. He feels that parents who are optimistic are more likely to have children who are optimistic. An optimistic mindset is key to dealing with adversity in life. Being able to deal with adversity in positive ways is one of the keys to true happiness.

Kids are watching our every move, so when parents deal with adversity in positive healthy and flexible ways are actually using their behavior (often unknowingly) to teach children these very skills.

Seligman suggests that we should be more conscious about it and talk out loud, where our kids can hear us, about our thought process as we deal with our everyday problems.

For example, let’s say the washing machine repairman is late in coming and you need to leave to a doctor’s appointment, you can say in earshot of your kids:

“This is a really big problem. I have this doctor appointment, and the repairman was supposed to be here already. I have a few options. I can call Grandma and see if she could let the repairman in. I could reschedule the repairman, but I really need the washing machine repaired. I could reschedule my doctor appointment, but that's pretty important too. Let me start by calling Grandma and then I will work from there. …”

Speaking in this way gives children a clear picture of positive thought processes that help us handle our everyday stresses.

2. It’s not going to last forever:

Another key to happiness, according to Seligman, is understanding that our problems are usually temporary. Thinking our problems are permanent and insurmountable can breed hopelessness and despair.

People who feel their problems are generally transitory, will have an easier time believing that they have the resources to cope with whatever comes there way.

For example if you did not get the job you wanted, do you tell yourself, “I can’t believe it. Something must be wrong with me. I will never get any good jobs”?

Or do you think that it is temporary, and think, “That’s too bad. I am pretty upset but I’m not going to let this get me down. I’m going to brush up on my interviewing skills and make some more phone calls starting tomorrow!”

How do we teach this concept to our kids? Again, the best way is by role modeling and talking out loud about your thought processes:

“Gosh, I can’t believe my computer crashed again. This is crazy! I have to remember that I can get it fixed and this problem is not going to last forever. If I keep that in mind, I can think clearly and do what I need to do to come up with a solution to this problem!”

3. Embrace bad moods and let kids be sad:

I was meeting with the director of a prestigious preschool. We were discussing the content of the parenting workshops I would be presenting. I asked her, “What is the most important problem your parents have with their kids?” She said, “It’s not so much that they have problems with their kids, it’s that they want a quick fix, they don’t know how to just leave their kids alone and let them be sad when they're sad, and that their job is not to make their kids happy all the time. They need to stop micromanaging their kids feelings.”

It’s true. As parents we think a child’s mood reflects our ability to parent effectively. A happy kid equals good parents, an unhappy kid equals bad parents. When we work from this baseline our kids angry moods become unbearable. We cannot stand to see our children distressed or disheartened.

Our job is not to make our kids happy all the time.

Instead we need to remember that all people have low states and high states, good moods and bad moods. It is part of the human condition. Our job as parents is not to make our kids happy all the time but to teach children ways to help themselves manage the inevitable ups and downs of life. They need to learn not to sweat the small stuff through trial and error.

Children need to find their own ways to deal with life’s bumps, and to pursue happiness and satisfaction in life. It is a very personal journey. Pushing children to be happy and not letting them be sad robs them of that opportunity.

It is more helpful if we empathize and name their feelings and then leave them alone.

“Boy you look kind of down. Looks like you had a rough day. That could be tough.”

“Not getting the toy that you want can make you feel pretty sad. I can see how disappointed you are…”

Just having someone understand your feelings can be all the help you need.

This Purim, give your kids the gift of authentic happiness.

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