The Power of Positive Parenting
12 steps to raising a happy child
By Ian Corks
Every parent wants his or her child to be happy. But what does happiness mean? It’s more than just a child who smiles all the time or never gets upset. Happiness starts with a firm foundation of security and self-esteem, as well as knowing you are loved. Here’s some food for thought from childcare experts that will put you on the right track.
1. Help your child feel special and appreciated
Experts agree that having at least one parent who makes the child feel really special can contribute significantly to the child’s self-image, confidence and resiliency. An adult who, while not ignoring the child’s problems, focuses on their strengths can make a big difference to their current happiness and future development. Set aside special times during the week to be alone with each child in the household. Use these special times to focus on activities the child enjoys and give him or her an opportunity to relax and display special strengths.
2. Encourage your child to develop problem-solving skills
Self-esteem goes hand-in-hand with a child’s ability to solve problems, big or small. Get in the habit of discussing everyday problems that your child may encounter. Even if the solution is obvious to you, let him or her think about a couple of ways of solving the problem. Don’t worry if the solution doesn’t come immediately. You can also try role-playing situations with your child to demonstrate the steps involved in problem solving.
3. Don’t judge
Avoid comments that are judgmental, and try to put feedback in a more positive light. For example, if your child is having trouble mastering something, a comment like “You’ll just have to try harder and put in more effort” assumes that they aren’t trying – that there is something wrong with them. Many children do try hard and still have difficulty. Try an approach like “Let’s try and figure out a different way to help you learn.” Children are less defensive when they feel the problem is shared by others.
4. Have empathy
How often, out of your own frustration, have you said things like “Why don’t you listen to me?” or “Why don’t you ever learn?” If your child is having difficulty learning, it’s more productive to show empathy to acknowledge it as a shared problem that can be solved together.
5. Provide choice
Let your child develop the habit of making decisions that affect him or her. For example, ask if he would like to be reminded 10 or 15 minutes before bedtime to start getting ready, or if she wants to wear the red or green sweater. These early, simple choices help set the foundations for future responsibilities and self-destiny.
6. Never compare
Avoid comparing your child to other children especially siblings. Negative comparisons damage self-esteem while overly positive ones can distort your child’s perceptions of others.
7. Highlight your child’s strength
Children sometimes view themselves in a negative way, especially in terms of learning, abilities and accomplishments. But every child has one or more areas in which they shine (through ability and/or pure enjoyment). Make a list of your child’s strengths, or “islands of competence” as some experts refer to them. Select one of these islands and find ways of reinforcing and displaying it. For example, if your child is a good artist or simply enjoys drawing or painting display the art.
8. Allow your child to contribute
Children have an inborn desire to help and be involved. Helping others in their own way and seeing that help appreciated are great boosts to self-esteem. Providing opportunities for children to contribute to family activities, a parent’s hobby or other activities are concrete ways of acknowledging that they have something to offer. Put aside or even create tasks that your child can help with.
9. Set realistic expectations and goals
Having realistic, achievable expectations helps your child to experience success as each goal is reached. This, in turn, gives a sense of control over life. With this comes confidence and self-esteem.
10. Praise and support your child
Praise your child, but do so moderately. Praise conveys values and expectations to your child and sets expectations. If you fail to praise, the message conveyed is that you don’t believe in them. Reasonable praise such as “smart,” “creative,” “kind” and “sensitive” sets expectations that are within your child’s reach. Words like “perfect,” “the best,” “most beautiful” and “brilliant” set impossible expectations. Children internalize those expectations and they often become pressured.
11. Build resiliency
Don’t try to hide or rescue your child from reality. A child needs to develop sensitivity and a certain “toughness” on their own. Being overprotective encourages dependency. You can be kind and protective without being too sympathetic. Your child will need to learn to recover from failure and build a resiliency that with let them triumph over adversity.
12. Be positive
It is easier to foster happiness if you refrain from those behaviours which destroy it. As a parent, this means refraining from excessive criticism. When it is necessary to correct your child, keep your comments brief, quiet and as positively phrased as possible. Don’t make it a personal attack on your child. Also try to avoid making negative statements about people, places, things or events in your child’s life in his or her presence. Negativity of this kind instills hopelessness and despair in youngsters. Instead, talk about the bright side of life, or at least talk about things in a balanced fashion by talking about the good and the bad. This will help your child develop an open mind and a sense of perspective.
Acknowledgments: the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, Sylvia Rimm (How to Parent so Children will Learn), Canadian Institute of Child Health, Paula Spencer (Parenting Guide to your Toddler).