Ask any parent and most of them will tell you that they want to raise happy children. In a world plagued with teenage depression and suicide (the third leading cause of death in 15- to 24-year-olds in the US), it’s not a wonder that we’re desperate to make sure our children are growing up happy.
It is a fine line between raising a child who depends on others for happiness and a child who finds happiness within himself. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of becoming responsible for our children’s happiness even though no one should ever be responsible for someone else’s happiness because it is too great a burden for anyone to bear. As parents, it is essential that we remember this.
Marguerite Lamb put it rather aptly in an article on Parents titled “7 Secrets to Raising a Happy Child” (the emphasis in bold is mine):
Don’t Try to Make Your Child Happy
It sounds counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do for your child’s long-term happiness may be to stop trying to keep her happy in the short-term. “If we put our kids in a bubble and grant them their every wish and desire, that is what they grow to expect, but the real world doesn’t work that way,” says Bonnie Harris, founder of Core Parenting, in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and author of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons: And What You Can Do About It.
To keep from overcoddling, recognize that you are not responsible for your child’s happiness, Harris urges. Parents who feel responsible for their kids’ emotions have great difficulty allowing them to experience anger, sadness, or frustration. We swoop in immediately to give them whatever we think will bring a smile or to solve whatever is causing them distress. Unfortunately, Harris warns, children who never learn to deal with negative emotions are in danger of being crushed by them as adolescents and adults.
Once you accept that you can’t make your child feel happiness (or any other emotion for that matter), you’ll be less inclined to try to “fix” her feelings — and more likely to step back and allow her to develop the coping skills and resilience she’ll need to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks.
To put it simply, when we try to be responsible for our children’s happiness, all we will achieve is to secure their unhappiness.
I’m a great believer that if you teach your children about how their brains work, they can learn to use them better. Likewise, if you teach children about happiness, they can learn to find happiness on their own. It is like that old fishing adage:
“If you give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
I usually find that books and examples through stories are a great platform to launch a discussion about emotions and abstract ideas. The Little Book of Happiness from the Geronimo Stilton collection is a great book for younger children – especially if they already enjoy reading his books.