Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cultivating Happiness in Children

                                                CHILDREN AND HAPPINESS
We all want to see our children happy. Not only do we want them to experience genuine happiness in their daily lives, it feels great knowing we’ve played a part in it. Unfortunately, our own struggle to experience happiness makes it tough to be a good guide to our children. It’s nearly impossible to pass on something to our child that we do not already possess ourselves.

The kind of happiness I am referring to here goes beyond the happy faces that inevitably surface during birthday parties or the gleeful grins we see at Christmas. Genuine, underlying happiness runs deeper than the excitement displayed when our child gets the latest gadget, or the name brand clothes. This excitement offers our child a taste of happiness. A temporary happy or state of being that can often feel so good that if he (or she) gets enough of it they start mistaking it for the real thing.

Well if genuine, lasting happiness is what you’d like to see instead, there is no better time than now to make a conscious effort on bringing this to your child’s life. Genuine happiness is something that a child not only feels, but can possess and carry with them into everything that they say and do. Of course, this doesn’t mean your child will always look “happy.” Genuine happiness is what allows your child to experience and express a range of emotions (sadness, anger, frustration, hurt, fear). But at the core the happy child experiences the world as a safe place, feels positively about himself (or herself) and has no doubt that he (or she) is worthy of being loved and cared for.

This kind of happiness, we will call it Carried Happiness, is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your child. Giving it to him (or her) is easier than you think! Carried happiness develops as your child experiences and interacts with others (including you). It is passed down in doses through the parent-child relationship. The seeds of happiness get planted and grow each time an interaction with others sends a clear message: “Regardless of your flaws, at the core, you are a good person and worthy of being treated well.” What seem like insignificant moments can leave a meaningful imprint that facilitates your child’s inner happiness.

Every parent, including you, has the ability to get this growing process started. Once we figure out how to make good use of daily moments—in the car, on the phone, during an argument, during story time, while doing laundry, as you are getting the groceries for the week—it becomes second nature.

Finding opportunities is not the problem, but taking the time to use these opportunities is. Until we learn to wake up and truly BE in the moment, this is a challenge. Instead, we are often distracted by our own stressors. We become caught up in our own emotions or emotional needs. We feel overwhelmed by the multiple demands on us. We parent on auto-pilot because it’s all we have the energy to do. And, perhaps, auto-pilot is how our parents parented us.

Distractions, demands and the unpredictability of children make it all but impossible to be a perfect parent. Our society even encourages us to be distracted parents by offering more and more things that distract us when we are supposed to be present to our children. Of course, no one is twisting our arm to continue this cycle. In fact, you can make a conscious effort to start attending to children in new ways, in more mindful ways. Making this conscious effort can have a ripple effect that reaches far beyond your child‘s happiness. As carried happiness grows within your child it becomes a gift he (or she) is then capable of passing on to others throughout his (or her) life.

Mindfulness is an amazing tool and one that all parents should be equipped with. It’s the only parenting tool that can help you create, attend to, and utilize daily moments in ways that give our child the experience of felt happiness. Mindful parenting gives you the ability to consciously provide your child his (or her) daily dose of happiness through affirming, validating, respectful, authentic, and compassionate interactions.

You may already be parenting mindfully, at least some of the time. Now it’s time to practice this more regularly, allowing mindfulness to become an integral part of your parent-child relationship. If you’re ready to invite mindfulness into your life, into your parenting, and into your relationship with your child you are in the right place. Learning a little about mindfulness is the first step toward helping your child develop and carry happiness.

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