Tip No. 2: Teach your child to build positive and meaningful relationships
As much as we’d like to, we can’t just make our children be, or feel, happy. We are, however, responsible for our own happiness, and if we have begun to take action to be happy ourselves, we will be in a much better place to help our children achieve their own happiness.
Bob Murray, in his book, Raising an Optimistic Child: A Proven Plan for Depression-Proofing Young Children for Life states that, “happy parents are likely to have happy kids”.
What if the one thing we can do to protect our child against a lifetime of misery is just to love them unconditionally
While we can’t make our children feel happy, we can make them feel loved, and feeling loved and secure is a big part of feeling happy. Child psychiatrist, Dr Edward Hallowell,
says that: “If a child has just one person who loves him unconditionally, that’s the closest thing he’ll ever get to an inoculation against misery”.
Now, that’s quite a big statement, but what if it’s true? What if the one thing we can do to protect our child against a lifetime of misery is just to love them unconditionally. Wouldn’t we all be doing that? Of course we would!
“Unfortunately, it’s not enough to ‘just’ love your child unconditionally, we need to show them that unconditional love.”
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to ‘just’ love your child unconditionally, we need to show them that unconditional love. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But we’re all human and as parents we have off days. There are days when our lovely children aren’t being quite as lovely which gets in the way of us showing that unconditional love. Days when we’ve had a tough time at work and we, unintentionally, take it out on our families by being snappy and short-tempered or by being emotionally unavailable. There are days when we’re unwell or very tired and have nothing left in our emotional tank, and days when we’re just not ourselves.
The thing is, if you’re snappy with your child, if you’ve shut yourself off and told them not to bother you, or you just don’t make time for them, your child probably thinks it’s because of something they’ve done – whether it is or it isn’t. This can then lead them to believe you don’t love them or that they aren’t good enough.
Kate Orson, parenting instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children, advises, if you can, removing yourself from the situation when you are feeling angry but to ultimately share your feelings with your child; don’t try to mask your frustration and be honest if their behaviour has irritated you, but frame your comments in a kind and loving way.
“What I want parents to know is that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent.”
In an interview with The Huffington Post, author and social worker Carla Naumberg said: “I actually think it’s important for kids to learn that you can get angry with someone and that you can express that anger, and you can still have a healthy, loving relationship. What I want parents to know is that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad parent”.
Teach your child to build positive and meaningful relationships.
Having robust, open and healthy relationships is important for your child’s growth and emotional well-being and can help them understand that you love them, even when you are angry, irritable or too busy for them.
What can parents do to help their children develop those positive and meaningful relationships? And how can you help your child feel connected to you, their siblings, extended family members, friends, other carers and even pets if you have them?
– Begin by reframing how you talk to your child and be aware of the non-verbal cues you may be giving off; a cross face and folded arms may make your child feel scared and intimidated. Kate Orson says: “It’s OK to set a limit… to say please don’t do it, but do it with warmth and kindness in your voice”.
– Don’t be afraid to apologise for your anger, and when talking to your child make it about your feelings, rather than their behaviour. For instance, say “I feel angry when you leave your coat on the floor” instead of “you make me so angry when you leave your coat on the floor”.
– Try and have family mealtimes, where everyone chats together without distractions from phones or televisions. Even if you can only do this once or twice a week it can make a big difference to your child’s self-esteem.
– Get down on the floor with your child (and pet if you have one) and play at their level. Let their imagination lead the way.
– Encourage your children to work together to solve problems or reach a common goal. You could create an autumn treasure hunt and take them out to find the items on your list.
– Accept your child’s feelings but set limits. Explain to them that it is okay to be angry, but it is not acceptable to lash out at their siblings or friends. Talk about how they could have reacted.
– Encourage your children to perform small acts of kindness which will help them build empathy. It could be something like giving their old toys to a charity or helping an elderly neighbour with their gardening.