“The best way to make children good is to make them happy,” Oscar Wilde once said, and his words have stood the test of time like few have.
Compared with others, Australians are a pretty happy nation. Indeed, the Great Southern Land is still among the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. Yet this is due in no small part to the many generations of parents who worked hard to ensure their descendants had a better future. As we become parents, we too have to think about how our kids can have a better life.
So, how can you make your kids the happiest? Unsurprisingly, a large part of the task comes down to how you act as a parent. Harmony Domaille, a teacher at Flexible Learning Centre, is happy to help out with expert advice while pointing out that every family is different.
“My experience in education and care has been varied and really interesting,” she says, “but it’s never the same as being the one person who is totally responsible for a life.
”That takes more than practice.”
Book in quality time to spend with your children every day. No matter your everyday schedule, time spent with your kids is invaluable as you’re making an enormous difference by taking a part in their lives. “Children have the same needs as adults. We want to connect, we want to know we are appreciated, we want to have fun and we want to be loved,” Harmony confirms.
Yet it’s also worth remembering that you don’t have to dedicate every single free minute to your offspring. A recent US study – deemed groundbreaking by The Washington Post – has revealed quality trumped quantity in regards to the time parents spent with children and how that time reflected on the children’s behavioural and academic patterns. That quality time is not watching TV together – rather, it’s about mutual attention, like listening to your child about their day at school and gently querying them. That way they’ll feel more loved and cared about than when playing games on a reluctantly-handed tablet.
- You are the key to your child’s happiness. Lead by example. “Whoever is raising the child plays a significant part in their development,” Harmony says. Therefore, happy parents are naturally more likely to have happy kids – after all, we’re only as happy as our unhappiest child! With that in mind, however…
- Short-term contentment does not equal long term joy. Coddling children can have major negative effects on their development, as numerous child psychologists and parenting experts will tell you. It’s the long-term happiness that counts, so teach the little ones that life is not all about presents and constant admiration – but remember that it isn’t about total supervision either!
- Be their friend. Talk to your child like you are their best friend – and make them feel that you are. Listen to them when they express concerns or fears, hold family discussions at dinner to make them feel included in the family life and gently query them for help, as this will make them feel special.
- Coach, not control. “Young people often rely on the adults around them for guidance and direction,” Harmony reflects. “We are here to help scaffold their learning and the way in which they perceive the world around them.” Working with your child towards certain goals as opposed to taking an authoritarian-parent approach gives them more enthusiasm for accomplishing study/sports-related tasks and helps them beat anxiety and develop real-world qualities like confidence and assertiveness.
“Children have the same needs as adults. We want to connect, we want to know we are appreciated, we want to have fun and we want to be loved.”
- Don’t be too hard on yourself or your children if your family is not an ‘ideal’ one. What’s the big deal if your family doesn’t fit the “happy family at Christmas” postcard image (despite family Christmas being an Australian institution)? Remember, there are no identical families out there and no need to conform to stereotypes. Just keep up the good work of being a responsible parent and coming home to smiling, happy faces – you’ve already embarked on a big journey!
- Don’t let stress affect your family. No matter how demanding your job is, your house should be a stress-free zone. “We are all affected by other people’s behaviours,” Harmony points out. “Stress tends to affect us negatively, which can take away from our ability to be fully there for the children.”Try to maintain the work-life balance as much as you can and find time for hobbies and social activities – this will work to your family’s benefit.
- Find out what makes your child difficult or moody. “It is important to recognise that no two children are the same, so a strategy that might work for one child, may not work as well for another,” Harmony reckons. “My go-to as a teacher, however, is to find out what has caused the problem. If a child is “moody” or acting out, the best thing to do is ask why! It may even be that the child is experiencing a sensory issue or have complex needs, in which case the approach will be different to someone who’s simply annoyed that they didn’t get ice cream for dessert.”
- Stage ‘digital detoxes’ every now and then. No matter the omnipresence of electronics nowadays, less ‘screentime’ and more ‘unplugged’ activities outside school are hugely beneficial for the child’s emotional wellbeing. “There is a strong emphasis currently on young people requiring electronics in schools as part of the curriculum, and while I think this is great in many ways, I am also aware of just how reliant our students have become on their tablets or smartphones,” Harmony reveals. “I’m not certain the long term effects of this overuse have been properly studied, and so I would recommend more trees and more bushwalks.”
- Go bush! This can be as trivial as camping out in your own backyard for fun. “Even if you don’t know how to light a fire or do it tough, why not start by setting up a tent in your backyard and just hanging out?” Harmony suggests. “Our children get a great joy when they see us having fun with them or being silly. Go on adventures outdoors!”
“If your child is “moody” or acting out, the best thing to do is ask why!”
- Give them more time and space to play on their own. Overbearing parents have a tendency to stunt the development of autonomy and independence in children, and can even foster neuroses, as a LiveScience survey shows. Instead of acting as a ‘helicopter parent’, encourage your kids to play/run/assemble Lego sets unsupervised (within reason, of course!) – and don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself in the meantime.
- Keep up your energy levels. Because, as you know, kids consume a lot of energy! Book in time for physical exercise, or design a physical routine for the whole family. Healthy, fit parents who encourage kids to be active make great role models.
- Talk to fellow parents if your child is having any issues at home or at work. This can be a great support, as you might find that a lot of kids go through similar issues that parents have to address. There’s also a wealth of online parenting forums that can help.
- Encourage friendships. The parents aren’t the only people who do the raising – it’s also the other children who develop bonds with your offspring. Childhood friendships last through the years and are crucial in the development of social, team and leadership skills.
- Keep talking to your kids. Nothing bonds parents and children like communication. “If parents asked their children what would make them happy other than the latest video game or cutest fad toy, they’d tell you it’s probably just to spend more time with you,” Harmony observes. “More eye contact, more talking!”
“It’s never the same as being the one person who is totally responsible for a life. That takes more than practice.”