With technology’s rapid pace and our kids’ chaotic schedules, we face new parenting challenges every day. If you consider your own stress levels high, you’re not alone. More than half of parents report being very stressed.
When it comes to evaluating their kids, however, parents fail to recognize the connection between their own stress and its effect on their children. More than 70% of children exhibit behaviors linked to stress. Luckily, as a parent, you have a hand in helping your child develop ways to understand and manage their happiness. Here are a few ways to raise a happy, well-adjusted kid:
Manage your own stress
Children learn by example. If they see you overreacting and letting external forces impact your mood, they will mirror those behaviors. To help your kids learn how to manage stress, be transparent with them about how you handle things when they don’t go your way.
Being a parent can be overwhelming, and it’s important to find ways to manage your stress for the health of the whole family. Don’t bring stress home from work, seek support when you need it, and don’t forget to have fun!
Model the power of optimism to your kids. Celebrating effort, not results, will help them cope with outcomes that don’t live up to expectations. Encourage your kids to try new things. Give them the space to fail, and the security to pick themselves back up. Afterward, discuss how the experience made them feel. Explain that no one succeeds every time and that their feelings are normal.
Teach them how to relate to others
Emotional intelligence doesn’t develop by itself. Any parent with a toddler will tell you that kids often don’t fully understand the emotions they’re feeling, and they certainly don’t have the skill to communicate them without practice.
Dr. John Gottman identified five steps to strengthening emotional intelligence in children:
- Be aware of and acknowledge your child’s emotions before they escalate.
- Think of kids’ emotions as a teaching opportunity.
- Validate your child’s feelings and actively listen.
- Help them give their emotions names and build their vocabulary.
- Teach your child that all emotions are okay, but all behaviors are not. Set limits and help them cope with their emotions in appropriate ways.
There are also many toys and games aimed at developing emotional intelligence starting at a young age. For example, the Fisher-Price Fun Feelings Monster alternates between three feelings – happy, sad and surprised – and makes corresponding sounds to help your baby gain a better understanding of each.
Monitor kids’ time online
Some studies have indicated that spending time online is associated with feelings of loneliness and depression in children. Whether those feelings are caused by being online or whether they cause kids to retreat to the virtual world isn’t clear. However, it is clear that spending excessive time on the internet can lead to negative outcomes. For one, more screen time means less physical activity. This habit can be hard to break as kids get older, leading to poor health and potentially obesity.
Sooner or later, your child will reach the age that they need a cell phone. Getting kids their first phone is a big source of anxiety for many parents. And for good reason: most don’t want their children to have unbridled access to the internet.
Stephen Dalby, a dad from Palo Alto, shared this concern and created a cell phone when he couldn’t find any alternatives for his 12-year-old son. Consider starting your kids off with a no-internet phone and talk with them about the importance of finding balance with technology. Be sure to lead by example in this area; if your children see you constantly on your phone, your words won’t mean much.
Create a stable, balanced routine
Having a routine is a great way to give kids a sense of security. As adults, we sometimes forget that children are experiencing new things almost every day. As they grow up, their bodies are developing, their teachers and classmates change, and they’re learning new skills like reading at a quick pace. Kids need an element of predictability to feel safe and happy while dealing with changes.
There are many benefits to following a routine with your kids. It can reduce power struggles and allow them to take charge of their own activities like brushing their teeth. It helps them grasp the balance of things we “have to do” and fun, and the concept of looking forward to a future activity. In short, a routine teaches children that life runs more smoothly if things are organized a little.
When creating your kids’ routine, don’t over-schedule them. Your children have many interests, and it’s up to you to help them prioritize which activities to pursue. Kids (and parents!) need downtime to recharge – they don’t thrive with a packed schedule in which every minute is accounted for. Be sure to build free time into your family’s routine and enjoy it.
Find your family’s balance
Raising happy, healthy kids is your top priority. Start by managing your own stress. Take an active role in teaching your children how to understand their own emotions and those of others. Help them take control of their own happiness by finding their balance between a routine and spontaneity; time online and unplugged; acknowledging feelings and letting them go. With these philosophies and open communication, you have the power to set your kids up for a happy and successful life.