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Katie Hurley

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7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children

Posted: 08/11/2013 11:33 am

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When it comes to kids, people just don't think about happiness enough these days. They think about success. They think in comparisons. They think about milestones, graduations and shiny trophies. (The ones they earned, of course. Because, you know, not everyone deserves a trophy these days).

They think about things like redshirting a potential Kindergartener -- not so that he will be happy, but so that he will have an advantage on the playing field or in the classroom.

They think about how many soccer teams a 9-year-old should play on at any given time to increase her odds of getting a full ride to some top-rated college at some point in the future.

They think about the obstacles that make parenting such an exhausting job. Yes, they think a lot about those.

But they don't spend a lot of time thinking about what makes kids happy.

Once upon a time, childhood was filled with endless days spent outside and very little TV. Imaginations ran wild and kids made their own fun with nothing but a few Matchbox cars and an old cardboard box. They played, they learned, and they socialized. But most of all, they had fun.

Life is far too scripted today. Plans are made. Classes are attended. Craft projects are intended to mimic those found on Pinterest. Gone are the days of free play and creating something out of nothing. Many kids today are simply following a script.

That's not to say that kids aren't happy, because many kids are. Many kids live a life full of adventure and wonder in their own backyards. But many don't. Many simply follow the plan. And that's a shame, because childhood should be all about happiness.

How can we focus on happiness when there is always so much to do? We can start by taking a breath (don't worry, that enormous pile of laundry will wait for you), and then we can take a few cues from happy kids.

7 Secrets of Highly Happy Kids:

1. They eat on time.
I know what you're thinking; that's too simple to be a real parenting strategy. Think again. Have you ever been so hungry that you just wanted to scream? That's how kids feel when they miss a snack or have to wait two hours past their normal mealtime to participate in some super-fancy family dinner.

Eating at regular intervals refuels their growing brains and bodies and keeps hunger under control. When kids are calm and satisfied, they experience greater happiness.

2. They get consistent sleep.
I know, I know, some kids are better sleepers than others. While that's certainly the truth, it isn't an excuse for poor sleep habits. Kids need to learn how to sleep. It's up to us to teach them. When they are completely exhausted, they are cranky. When they are well-rested and ready to embrace the day, they are happier. Make sleep (and a consistent bedtime) a priority.

3. They play without instructions.
Unstructured playtime appears to be a lost art these days. It used to be that kids made their own fun. Today, kids are over-scheduled, dialed in and in awe of toys that essentially do the playing for them. Sure, those garbage trucks with all of the bells and whistles are neat, but be sure to mix in some wooden trucks and building blocks. And, please, take a look at the busy schedule and find some time where your kids can just play each day. Play is good for the soul.

4. They are allowed to express emotions.
Kids yell when they're mad. They cry when they're sad. They might even stomp their feet and run around in circles when they're not sure what to feel. And sometimes, if you're really lucky, they do all of that in the middle of aisle 9 at your friendly neighborhood Target store. Let them. Kids need to express their emotions. While adults know to call a friend to vent when the going gets tough, kids are a bit more primitive. Shushing them and publicly shaming them doesn't help. Let them vent in their own little way and then offer to help. Enduring a public temper tantrum might feel overwhelming in the moment, but it's better than a lifetime of internalizing negative emotions that could lead to eating issues, depression or other emotional problems for your child.

5. They get to make choices.
Kids have very little control over their lives. They are constantly being told where to go, what to do and what to eat. A little bit of control goes a long way toward feeling happy. Let your kids choose their outfits. Allow them to choose the dinner menu one night per week. Ask them what classes they want to take. Give them the opportunity to make some decisions and watch them smile in return.

6. They feel heard.
Kids are intuitive. Even toddlers can tell when parents are tuning them out or answering on autopilot. When kids feel like their parents truly listen to them (about everything from Lightning McQueen's best race to what they learned in school), they feel more connected. This increases their self-confidence and increases their overall happiness. Listen when your children speak. It's the best way to build an open and honest relationship with your child and it makes your child happy.

Are you still with me? Because this last one is important.

7. They experience unconditional love.
Kids mess up. You tell them not to jump off the couch over and over again, but they do it anyway. And then they cry. Because childhood is largely based on trial and error, and sometimes kids just need to take chances. Forgive them. Love them anyway.

When kids know that their parents love and support them no matter what, they are more likely to take healthy risks. They are confident and secure in their decisions. They learn that sometimes people make mistakes, but there is always a chance to right a wrong.

When children know that their parents will always be there for them, for better or for worse, they are happy.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • 1. Have Gratitude

    "It all starts with counting our blessings. If you are not grateful for the good things in your life, you will never be satisfied. Take inventory of the good around you. But don't neglect what's not great, either: You also need to be grateful for the hardships, the obstacles, the failures. Why? Because these are the points of wisdom in your life. They give you strength, they teach you how to persevere, and they form your resilience. Being thankful for every step makes life’s hardships surmountable. All of this is the foundation of optimism; being psyched about the good and the bad, and knowing that they all point to a bright future."

  • 2. Share Your Stories

    "I believe we all have the capacity to live optimistically just by sharing our life’s adventures, our successes and even our failures. Just knowing others have been in the same boat and have persevered is comforting. It spreads a message of hope, and hope is the main ingredient in optimism. When we share our stories we are giving others the tools they need to build, evolve, and persevere. In essence, mankind is always 'paying it forward.'”

  • 3. Forgive

    "This is easier said than done but you need to forgive those that have affected your ability to find the silver linings. I believe that the easiest way to forgive and move on is to reflect on the fact that the past is the past. Just look at it this way; the person that you are having a hard time forgiving probably wishes that he or she could erase the past as well. In summary, make peace with your past so that it won't spoil the present. Once you accomplish this, you will close those chapters and live a more positive and happy life."

  • 4. Be A Better Listener

    "When you listen you open up your ability to take in more knowledge versus blocking the world with your words or your distracting thoughts. You are also demonstrating confidence and respect for others. Knowledge and confidence is proof that you are secure and positive with yourself thus radiating positive energy."

  • 5. Turn Envy And Jealousy Into Energy

    "When we envy others we are only hurting ourselves. The universe does not owe you because someone else is better off than you. Channel that energy into building your personal and professional brand. Consider other people’s success the catalyst to help you achieve."

  • 6. Smile More, Frown Less

    "When we smile we are creating a happy, stimulating environment around us that draws others in. Frowning, on the other hand, shuts people out and has the opposite effect. Happiness, even in brief doses, releases Serotonin (the happy hormone). It makes the toughest days surmountable."

  • 7. Exercise, Eat A Healthy Diet And Take In Vitamin D

    "This may be common advice, but we all need some form of exercise and sunlight every day even -- if it’s only for 15 minutes. If you can’t get natural sunlight, ask your doctor about Vitamin D supplements and/or light therapy. If you can’t get exercise during your busy schedule, use the staircase instead of the elevator or park in the furthest parking spot. Whatever it takes, keep yourself in healthy motion as often as you can. Consider balanced meals and don’t push away those fruits and vegetables. If you feel hunger throughout the day, consider almonds and walnuts if you are not allergic. If you are predisposed to allergies, consider frequent smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones. The energy we get from exercise, a healthy diet, and light exposure gives us focus, clarity and a naturally positive demeanor."

  • 8. Be A Positive Forward Thinker

    "Positive forward thinking is the ability to find the silver lining in every cloud, apply it to today or yesterday and be hopeful that tomorrow will be better. Imagine surgery; you think the worse and can’t wait for it to be over. Take all that and start visualizing what the point of the surgery is and what the results of the procedure will deliver. The goal is good, it’s only today that may seem rough. Or picture a student studying for a grueling exam. It may seem like the end of the world trying to prepare and memorize all this information. But take that energy and picture what your degree can do for your future. Like anything else, working hard will always deliver results. Life is not a lottery. It’s what you make of it."

  • 9. Stop Blaming Others

    "It is so easy to blame others for our position in life. People blame the economy, politicians, bosses, and all types of third parties for their problems. Once you truly accept that you control who you are, you will find that optimism and success come naturally. Remember, opportunity is usually found in the valleys, not at the peaks."

  • 10. Understand That The Past Is Not A Blueprint For The Future

    "Just because you've experienced adversity in your life does not mean that what starts badly will end badly. Do not make bad experiences a self-fulfilling prophecy of what lies ahead. On the contrary, know that those milestones are behind you and the road to the future is clear."

 

Follow Katie Hurley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/katiefhurley

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