How do you raise a happy child? As a bonus mom, I’ve asked myself this question many times. Stepping into my parenting journey was very different, and I often found myself struggling with not only where I fit, but how I could truly be a ‘good’ parent (without totally stressing myself out with perfectionism in the process).
After five years of this journey, I still don’t have all the answers. But, on the bright side, science says that it’s actually not hard to raise a happy, successful and positive child. You just have to be intentional, lead with love, and strive to create strong bonds that only improve with time.
From one mama who’s figuring it out to another, here are some tips:
Focus On Your Own Happiness First
What I’ve learned in my journey is that you have to work on yourself in order to be a good parent. That may look like self-care and taking up space, or it may look like therapy. There is no ‘right’ way to create your own sense of happiness, but it’s incredibly important to do so. That way, you’ll not only have a full cup to draw from, but you’ll also find your joy outside of your children (which is super important).
When I first became a mama, my happiness started to center on my kiddo and how he was feeling. In fact, I would often change myself, my routines, and my habits to accommodate him. While that’s great to some extent, it made me lessen myself in the process. And that actually hurt my ability to be a good mom because I was so burnt out and tired from putting everyone else but myself first.
Putting your own happiness, passions, and feelings first (not always but often) is invaluable.
Prioritize Intentional Time Together
If you want to raise a happy child, you need to prioritize time together (obviously!). Take a look at your schedule and try to find time(s) that work. Maybe this is one day per week, an every Saturday Game Night, or an afterschool date where you do something fun. (We do Fun Fridays in our house, where I take my kiddo for a treat after school pickup!).
Whatever it is, try to adopt these ‘rules’:
- Reduce screen time to focus on conversation and intentionality
- Ask direct questions rather than open-ended ones (Ex: “What was the best thing that happened at school today?” instead of the vague “How was your day?”)
- Stay off electronics (especially parents!)
- Ask your child(ren) to weigh in on their preferred activities
- Set a schedule and routine to keep consistency
Strengthen Your Marriage, Partner & Co-Parenting Relationships
Although it may seem like you should prioritize your children over your marriage/relationship, the opposite is actually true. The stronger your bond with your significant other is, the stronger your bond with your children will be.
Why? Because you model appropriate and healthy connections, you focus on family/collective decisions rather than child-centered decisions, and you make sure to keep the foundation of your family strong. When you have a strong foundation, then you can work together to grow your relationship with co-parents, exes, and as a result, your children.
Create ‘Safe’ Space(s) for Your Children
A ‘safe’ space for your child can mean anything from a separate location (think fort or treehouse), or a space where they can play and be themselves. As Foryourlittleone points out, there are more options than ever before to create nooks and spaces for kids! (In fact, I actually wrote a whole article about ‘Calming Corners‘ after creating a school in my home last year!)
The goal is to create relaxing space(s) where they can read, think, journal, play video games, etc. by themselves. Not only does this space help them to unwind, but they’ll also have a separation from you so that they can better process their feelings, reflections, and interactions with you or others.
Make Mealtimes More Intentional
Try, as often as possible, to make mealtimes a connection point.
When you eat with your children, you create opportunities for expression and conversation, as well as make spending time together a priority. We are all so busy, but mealtimes can be a relatively easy way to connect since everyone—regardless of their schedule—has to eat.
If everyone has to eat at some point, why not eat together?
Improve Your Children’s Emotional Health
Emotional wellness is so important, but it’s sometimes overlooked. Oftentimes, it can seem that children don’t have as much to process or that they’re ‘too young’ to really feel as deeply as adults do. In actuality, that’s false. Children process just as much (and sometimes more!) than adults do, and the downside is that they’re less emotionally developed to be equipped in handling all of these emotions themselves.
PS: If you want to learn more about children’s emotional wellness, listen to this podcast episode on coping skills I did with the Coping Skills for Kids founder, Janine Halloran!
You can guide your child’s health by investing in them: having conversations, holding space for them to process circumstances, or setting them up with therapy sessions if they are going through a difficult time (or even if they’re not!)
You can even look at schools or centers that prioritize mental health. This not only focuses on the educational aspect, but the mental, too! For example, the Eva Carlston Academy does just that.
The earlier you prioritize mental health and wellness, and more importantly normalize talking about, working through, and getting help for mental issues, the happier your child(ren) will be.
Live One Day At a Time
Bottom line: You must remember that happiness isn’t just a point you reach—it’s an ongoing process. Don’t stress yourself out looking back at times you ‘failed’ or looking forward at all the ‘work’ you have to do. Start right now.
The sooner you lessen the unrealistic expectations of yourself, put aside the pressure, and invest in the every day with your children, the more joy you’ll bring into your life and the lives of your family members.
PS: Looking for resources to support your journey? Here are some books I love! Click the image to view.
- Coping Skills for Kids Workbook
- My Strong Mind
- How to Tame My Anxiety Monster
- The DBT Skills Workbook for Teens