While happiness is a desirable emotional state, compassion and empathy are developed through opportunities to feel disappointment, sorrow and pain. Parents weaken their children’s resilience when they protect them from experiencing the uncomfortable consequences of life’s hard bits. Consequently, I invited parents to resign from believing or attempting to make happy children.
I am not referring to keeping children out of harm’s way, injustice, bullying or other potentially wounding experiences. I am referring to the many parents who believe it is their duty to make their children happy. They feel anxious when their children feel and express any feeling other than happy. Consequently, those parents become emotionally hijacked by their children’s emotional state.
Children need to experience normal ups and downs and age appropriate struggles. Being wrapped up in a protective cocoon does not allow the caterpillar to struggle its way out. It impedes the growth of a beautiful butterfly. Likewise, this is true for children.
In this unconscious commitment to ‘making your children happy,’ you end up overindulging them. Family researcher and author of How Much Is Too Much, Jean Illsley Clarke offers this definition:
“Overindulgence is a form of child neglect. It hinders children from performing their needed developmental tasks, and from learning necessary life lessons.”
Do not impede your children’s maturation by:
- · doing for them what they can do for themselves, even if they grumble.
- · giving them too much. Treating them to the point treating is an expectation.
- · rescuing them from consequences that arise from their poor behavior at school, in the community or with playmates.
As a grandmother, I know it is tempting to earn love by indulging. A sprinkle of sugar does little harm while a steady diet of it can impair teeth and health.
Complicating this phenomenon of ‘making happy children’ is the invitation by some parents for their children to treat them as if they were bosom friends. They treat their children as if on equal ground. Children need parents that exercise their experience and wisdom to lead, not be buddy, buddy!. I have heard of parents sharing a toke with their children. Horrors!
Lead Your Family
Children need to know who is the head of the family, who cares enough to set limits and has a sense of firm leadership. On the other hand, there are some parents who would benefit from minimizing their repetitive ‘no’ and adding ‘yes’.
Deciding that all feelings are acceptable and that you are primarily responsible for providing loving care, guidance and structure will free you to say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ when needed and appropriate.
In addition to appropriately saying ‘no’ and ‘yes’ use The Grandmother Rule or After Rule. It sounds like this, “Yes after your homework is done you may play.” I recall saying to our seventeen-year-old son begging for his own car. We said, “Of course you can buy a car. After you save enough money we will help you find a safe one.”
We can start with that premise, that the parent’s role includes that of teacher, guide, counselor, encourager and nurturer rather than a fairy or magic genie that can create happy miracles and lives on another planet. Clearly established rules, guidelines and family values are modeled and led by parents who want children feeling and expressing a range of emotions. Parenting children is not always happy parenting. There are tough decisions to make. Sometimes discipline is required.
Happy Children and Ron Moorish
Ron Morrish in Secrets of Discipline offers this definition of discipline:
“Real discipline’ isn’t some new theory. It simply refers to all the techniques that great parents and teachers use to teach children to be respectful, responsible and cooperative.”
Morrish encourages parents to become the authority figures of their family. He describes how the parenting practice of giving choices for all manner of daily behavior has backfired. There are times we want our children to be compliant.
Moorish points out, we want all citizens compliant to the rules of society, including driving on our roads. Just as you and I stop habitually at the red stop signs, children can be taught to respond consistently to routines and household rules–assuming they are age appropriate and fair.
Establishing rules, directing, and correcting are all actions of the in-charge parent. The following are some tips from Moorish.
Five Rule Ideas from Secrets of Discipline
- · Work from more structure to less structure, not the other way around. That means to provide more structure in the younger years. The more responsible children act, the more freedom they earn. Remember, there are responsible twelve-year-olds filling in for parents as babysitters, or as I prefer to call them, child-minders.
- · Rules worth having are worth enforcing. Follow-through on rules. If you park under a no-parking sign the chances are good that your car will be towed. If you say you will not drive your child to school if not ready on time, then keep your promise.
- · Whenever possible, discipline should end with the correct behavior, not with a consequence.
- · Limit children to the choices which are theirs to make.
- · If adults won’t say no to children, children won’t say no to themselves.
Consider holding family meetings as a way to lead your family towards cooperation, negotiation, and inclusiveness.
Instead of making happy children don’t we want children who will feel angry when they see bullying behavior? Don’t we want children to feel afraid when they see a toddler waddling into traffic? Don’t we want children who will feel sad at their grandparent’s funeral? I do!
Let’s agree that all feelings are valid and we want to aim for children who will become healthy and contributing citizens who choose kind, thoughtful and responsible behaviors. And in the moments of family joy and celebration may we experience, happy children.