THE BLOG
12/03/2015 04:41 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2016

Top 5 Parenting Habits for Raising Happy, Healthy Kids

Top 5 Parenting Habits for Raising Happy, Healthy Kids

We all know that parenting can be difficult. In those first few months after birth, when you're basking in the glow of becoming a new mom or dad while reeling from the difficulty of nighttime feeds, much of what's necessary to raise a child hasn't really hit you. But, over time, as the months and years wear on, you become more aware of the importance of things like routines and the instillation of good habits for raising happier and healthier children.

As parents, we want our children to have all of the advantages and benefits in life that we can possibly provide. And, one of those benefits is derived from instilling the right habits into our children early on to help create a solid foundation for them in life as teenagers and into adulthood. And, according to science, there are, in fact, five parenting habits that are necessary for raising happy and healthy children.

While children don't generally have a grasp on the world that they're living in at a younger age, by instituting the right parenting habits, we can help acclimate them the right way to the world as they come of age. We want them to be honest, caring, empathizing contributors to society. We also want them to be intelligent, self-reliant, curious, and motivated to follow their passions in life.

So how do we give them the tools to do this?

This isn't about just raising successful kids. Happiness and health precede success, and as long as we can instill our children with the right habits to be both happy and healthy, we're already providing them a foundation for success. And, if you implement these top five parenting habits into your daily routine, as a parent, you can rest assured that you're giving your children that rock-solid foundation necessary to help them fulfill their missions in life.

1. Say Please and Thank You

While it might sound obvious, not all parents do it. But, by saying please and thank you, and not just instructing your children to do it, we're setting a strong example. Those three words help to instill a mutual respect for others, sympathy, and even empathy. A child who says please and thank you grows up understanding the importance of both giving and receiving, along with vital social skills to use as an adult.

One study found that simply saying thank you helps to build and maintain social relationships, and instills gratitude. When we're grateful for things, we don't take them for granted, and people appreciate a person who is grateful far more than they do a person who is ungrateful. But, saying thank you and being grateful doesn't just affect the individual you're communicating with, it also affects others.

The study finds that "insofar as expressions of gratitude signal interpersonal warmth, witnesses to the expression of gratitude should also infer the worth of affiliating with the expresser. This is an important question as ever-more interpersonal communication, and indeed thanks-saying, occurs in public arenas (e.g.,Twitter, Facebook).".

2. Evening Prayers and Morning Gratitude

By teaching your children to pray in the evening, no matter what your faith, and to be grateful in the mornings as they wake up, will turn them into thriving adults who are better able to take on the world. Not only does this keep them spiritually connected, but it also helps them to realize the importance of focus. When we focus on the things we have to be grateful for, thanking God, Allah, Buddha, or whomever it is that we call our creator, we live far more abundant lives.

The truth of the matter is that we get whatever it is that we focus on in life. The mind is very much like the lens of a camera in that way. When we focus on our problems and negativity, and we teach our children about that by arguing and fussing in front of them, then we see negativity all around us. It's easy to find the evidence for whatever it is that we focus on.

However, when we focus on being grateful and appreciating the things that we do have as opposed to what we don't have, our minds are steeped in abundance rather than a state of lack. The fact is that we have far more than many others do when we just stop to think about it. If we teach our children this, then they'll realize it as adults and make their decisions accordingly, being less focused on greed and taking, and more focused on selflessly contributing and giving to others in need.

3. Honesty is the Best Policy

While some parents believe that lying to their children about certain things is necessary, others believe that by being honest and instilling the habit of honesty, no matter what, is most certainly the best policy. So, how do we instill the habit of honesty in children? Is it by simply teaching them and telling them that honesty is the best policy? Do we lead by example? Or, is it some combination of the two?

The question has been the focus of Kang Lee, a researcher from the University of Toronto. In a study published in Psychological Science entitled, "Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children?", Lee poses the question about what classical stories can help instill honesty into children. Was it stories that focused on the negativity of dishonesty such as Pinocchio or The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Or, was it stories that promoted honest behavior rather than the negative effects of dishonesty, such as the story of George Washington coming clean after chopping down the cherry tree?

What Lee found was surprising. He states that "Contrary to our expectations, results showed that hearing "Pinocchio" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" failed to decrease children's tendency to lie about their own transgression. In contrast, hearing "George Washington and the Cherry Tree" significantly increased the likelihood that children would tell the truth about their own transgression, regardless of their age. One factor contributing to the effectiveness of "George Washington and the Cherry Tree" is its emphasis on the positivity of honesty."

4. Daily Reading

Developing the reading habit is an important one for children. While children in our society are constantly bombarded with all types of media, both online and offline, the simple act of reading is an important habit to develop early on. Well-read children are fare more able to cope with and understand the world that they live in, gleaning important information and experiences from the words that they read in books.

However, simply telling children to read doesn't cut it. Children are experts at emulating their parents, and if they see you reading on an ongoing basis, they're far more likely to pick up the reading habit. This isn't just about reading them bedtime stories; this is about helping to instill a habit that will have them reading on their own, curious enough to explore books that might interest them, ultimately developing a passion for what they want out of life.

Reading opens a whole new world to us, a chance to explore and understand things that we might not have explored or understood on our own. It provides us access to a wealth of knowledge passed down through the ages. The experiences locked away in the books written over time are invaluable learning tools for children who are interested in a particular topic or subject. And, when kids see you reading books, they're far more likely to do it themselves.

5. Share and Communicate Your Feelings

Although many of us might think that children are too young to understand certain things, generally speaking, they know far more than we think they know. And children are experts at tucking things away in their mind, only to be accessed at a later time. When a child sees us clam up, unwilling to talk about something, or get carried away in emotions while on the phone or interacting with someone in person, you can bet that they're cataloging everything that they see and hear us do, holding it locked away somewhere in their subconscious minds.

However, when we share and communicate our feelings with children, we teach them to express themselves, even providing the proper social skills for later development. When a child can actively express how he or she is feeling, its an invaluable tool to have for later on in life. But, if a child learns to lock their feelings away, too afraid to speak due to fear of condemnation or ridicule, they're far less likely to share those same feelings with us.

Once again, children are excellent emulators. If we share our feelings with them, telling them about our day, what happened, and how those things made us feel, then turning to them to do the same, we're helping to foster habits to help keep them happy and healthy in the future. Since relationships will be a big part of their lives, giving them the right tools to employ in order to handle a relationship with a friend, business associate, or even a loved one, is going to be critical to their overall development.

While importance of communication in children has long been studied, we can always do more to help foster this habit in our kids. If we can help open our children up to becoming better communicators early on, they will be far better, not only in their relationships, but also in their intended careers, finances, and health as they'll seek advice from others rather than trying to figure everything out on their own.

Image credit: Paul L Dineen -- Flickr (CC)