We all want the same for our children. We want them to grow up to live happy, fulfilling, and successful lives. But how much control do we actually have over our children’s future?
As it turns out, quite a bit—and it all starts in childhood. Providing your kids with a foundation for a happy, fulfilling life might be easier than you think.
Cultivating happiness in children goes far beyond praise, getting the best grades or letting them watch their favorite movie. In fact, creating a foundation for happiness has much more to do with fostering skills and habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Today, we’re going to share ten ways you can help your children develop healthy habits that will set them up for happiness, both in childhood and beyond.
Spend More Time Outdoors
We can all recall childhood days spent digging in the dirt, climbing trees, swinging on swings, collecting rocks, or jumping in rain puddles. There’s a reason we remember these moments so fondly. Outdoor play is an important part of our children's development, while providing countless opportunities for exploration, curiosity, learning, and fun.
Several studies have shown that children who regularly play outdoors are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious. Nature comes with a seemingly endless list of benefits for children including building confidence, improving social skills, promoting creativity and imagination, teaching responsibility, providing stimulation, promoting movement, reducing stress and fatigue, and encouraging learning.
All it takes is listening to the birds or admiring the beauty of trees and flowers to understand the magic and wonder contained in nature.
When you realise EARTH and HEART are spelled using the same letters, it all starts to make sense.
Discover Your Child’s Values
We can all agree that doing the things we love brings us joy—and children are no exception. By helping your child discover their highest values and encourage what they love, you can inspire them to reach their full potential.
Start by paying close attention to the things your child is most interested in. You can easily do this by noticing what your child talks about the most, what they spend their time doing, where they exhibit the most energy, and the areas of their life where they seem to have the most order.
Every child has a gift, and it’s our responsibility as parents to nurture that gift, whatever it may be.
If they are into sea creatures, for example, take them to the library to find books on fish identification, watch shows about the ocean, or help them to create underwater artwork they can decorate their room with. You could even connect online with a role model that works in a profession your child finds interesting, such as a marine biologist.
Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude
Gratitude helps us pay attention to all the wonderful things in our lives. When we practice gratitude, we create more resilience, well-being, and positivity, and strengthen our empathy.
By helping our children to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we help them reach their dreams and overcome challenges in life. It truly is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Some simple exercises you can use to encourage your children to practice gratitude include:
- Take five minutes at the beginning or end of the day to ask your child three things they are grateful for.
- Ask your child how it feels when they talk about things they are grateful for—this creates an opportunity to reinforce how gratitude creates positive feelings.
- Recall a special memory or experience with your child, such as a family holiday or a special moment in your day, and use this as an opportunity to talk about gratitude.
Encourage Helping Others
For centuries, the greatest thinkers and philosophers have suggested that ‘the secret to living is giving.’
While it’s natural for children to be self-involved, as their primary focus is making sure their needs are met by the people around them, with some gentle encouragement, we can help our children look outside their own needs and begin to have an awareness of the world outside themselves.
We can cultivate generosity by helping children to develop an understanding of how good it feels when we give or help others. Ask your child: “How did it feel when you received a gift from your grandparent?” or “How did it feel when your sister helped you put that puzzle together?”
You can also ask questions, such as “How do you think your sister felt when you gave her your toy?” or seek out occasions for greater empathy such as participating in a food or clothing drive.
Children will naturally do nice things for others from time to time, so if you notice a kind gesture like sharing a toy or helping out at home, praise your child for their behavior. Positively recognizing their actions makes them more likely to continue doing it.
Encouraging children to help make someone else's life better is one of the best ways to build a foundation for a happy and fulfilling life.
How do you help your child to make wise decisions? A great place to start is to trust your child, allow them to make mistakes, and help them understand what went wrong or what could have been done better.
Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and instead focus on what lessons can be taken from the experience. Carefully allowing your child to cultivate independence, learn a lesson from their mistakes and then talk to them about it after the fact, will give them great insight.
Another helpful exercise is to encourage your child to pause and consider their choices before they make decisions. If they’re trying to decide what they want to eat, ask them which would be the healthier choice.
If they’re asking about a situation with a friend, encourage them to think about if what they’re about to do is kind and fair, and if they’d want another person to do the same to them. By helping your child stop and think before making a decision, they’ll learn more about making good choices for themselves and others.
Less Screen Time
Putting on a movie or allowing your child to play on an iPad regularly might seem pretty harmless, but you might be surprised to learn that studies are increasingly finding that more screen time results in unhappier kids.
Studies show that less screen time is associated with greater wellbeing, and use beyond the recommended thresholds can be linked to negative mental health effects.
The lesson here? Everything in moderation. As parents, we can do our best to keep screen time to a minimum and try to prioritize more time outdoors, physical activities, board games, or simply reading a book.
More Quality Time
Arguably, the most important aspect of raising happy kids is understanding that children want to feel seen, heard, and understood—and those things can only happen through quality time spent together.
Do your best to make it a priority to give your child your undivided attention every day. Make it a daily habit to spend quality time with your child without any distractions.
Use our conversation starter cards to spark thoughtful conversations about kindness, compassion, and gratitude.
Be intentional and show interest in things your child loves doing by joining in on their activities, having fun, going on a special outing, reading stories they love, and expressing how much you love spending time with them.
Enjoy Meals Together
In today’s busy world, it can be tempting to grab food on the go or eat meals at different times than your family members, but eating meals together as a family is an important aspect of raising happy children.
One study found that the more meals a family ate together, the greater wellbeing was in adolescents. Another study found that teens who ate meals with their families were less likely to engage in risky behaviors or have mental health struggles.
Don’t worry if you can’t eat every meal together as a family. Studies show that kids still benefit from eating with their family, even if it’s only a few times a week, so simply making an effort to eat together as often as you can is what really counts.
During meals together, have every family member share one thing they love or appreciate about each family member. This creates feel-good moments and memories that can last a lifetime.
Encourage Plenty of Exercise
Active kids are happy kids! Physical activity releases feel-good brain chemicals that provide greater wellbeing and natural stress relief. Kids who regularly exercise have also been found to sleep sounder, and better sleep leads to better moods.
There are lots of fun and interesting ways to encourage your child to be active. Go on a nature walk together, play sports, have a dance party, challenge them to a jumping jacks contest or encourage them to participate in a home exercise video with you on YouTube.
By making it fun, your child is more likely to want to exercise over and over again.
Being mindful is a powerful secret to living life to its fullest. Teaching our children how to be mindful can help them to feel calm and understand what it means to connect with themselves, others, and their surroundings.
There are many simple ways to practice mindfulness that your children will enjoy such as doing a gentle yoga session, practicing a short meditation, or engaging in daily breathing exercises.
These exercises can benefit children in a number of important ways including managing their anxiety, improving their emotional regulation, boosting their self-esteem, increasing their body awareness, enhancing their concentration and memory, and teaching discipline.
Have a conversation with your child about all the ways we can be mindful by noticing what’s happening in the present moment. Start with simple exercises such as a ten-minute yoga session, a focused deep breathing exercise in the morning and evening, or asking your child what colors, sounds, or sensations they notice as they go about their day.
The best way to teach your child mindfulness is to model it, so aim to regularly practice mindfulness. Be present in the moment with your child and listen fully so that your little ones feel seen, heard, and understood.
Looking for more helpful tips for raising happy little humans?
Download our free Children’s Empowerment Kit which includes our Printable Posters, 101 Acts of Kindness + Compassion e-book, and weekly Alphabet Lesson Plans and Printables.