Study hard. Work hard. Stay focused and keep your eye on the prize. You must succeed, so you need to plan for your future today and every day. It’s go, go go time! These are the types of lessons we drill into our children. But, is it the right way to prep kids for the future?
It’s only natural that parents want their kids to have a secure future, so we teach them attitudes that we believe will help them become successful adults. We regularly remind them that “life is tough out there” and “do you want to end up like Billy, still living at home when you’re 30?” In a way, we’re using fear tactics to scare our children, hoping that they’ll be frightened into self-motivation. This approach may work in the short-term, but down the road, it could end up turning our kids into frazzled buckets of stress.
Ironically though, if you ask a parent what they want most for their children, they invariably say “happiness.” So does success equate to happiness, or does happiness equate to success?
Are we not hampering our children’s happiness by conditioning them to believe they must be focused on the future and they must be driven and that they must, if they want to be successful, always strive to be number one…in everything. Wow, talk about pressure.
So how can parents raise happy and “successful” children?
Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:
“The science of positive psychology has shown us that happiness comes from experiencing lots of different positive emotions: gratitude, appreciation, optimism and confidence about the future, joy and contentment in the present.
Of course we will all still have negative emotions, and parents should not try to protect their children from those experiences. Time and again, the research demonstrates that what we say and do with children is far more important in their success and happiness than any innate talent or disposition.”
So it seems that if we want to raise happy and successful children, we need to foster positive traits that will sustain them through good times and bad — to equip children with more than just “you better get out there and do something with your life young lady!”
A group of Professor’s at Japan’s Kobe University recently conducted a survey of 5,000 Japanese men and women about their childhood relationship with their parents — the participants were asked to agree or disagree with certain statements such as “My parents trusted me,” and “I felt like my family had no interest in me.” Using the results they outlined six distinct parenting styles:
Supportive: High or average levels of independence, high levels of trust, high levels of interest shown in child, large amount of time spent together
Strict: Low levels of independence, medium-to-high levels of trust, strict or fairly strict, medium-to-high levels of interest shown in child, many rules
Indulgent: High or average levels of trust, not strict at all, time spent together is average or longer than average
Easygoing: Low levels of interest shown in child, not strict at all, small amount of time spent together, few rules
Harsh: Low levels of interest shown in child, low levels of independence, low levels of trust, strict
Average: Average levels for all key factors
Which of these styles was directly correlated with the most happy and successful adults? “The results demonstrated that people who had experienced ‘supportive’ child-rearing where parents paid them a lot of positive attention reported high salaries, academic success, and high levels of happiness,” notes the study release.
Parents do have an obligation to prepare kids to grow up sound and strong and able to best manage their adult lives. But that preparation doesn’t need to center around messages of anxiety and trepidation.
If parents instill almost a sense of fear in their children about the future and condition them to be intimidated by their future, aren’t we just creating anxiety that will stick with them into adulthood? Perhaps what we should be telling our kids, is to enjoy the moment — to yes, be prepared for their future, but to first live life in the now, so they will grow to have happy memories of their childhood.
Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, boils the process down to 10 simple, happiness-inducing steps.
Step 1: Get happy yourself: put on your own oxygen mask
How happy parents are dramatically affects how happy and successful the kids are.
Step 2: Teach them to build relationships by building a village
The breadth and depth of our positive relationships with other people is the strongest predictor of human happiness.
Step 3: Expect effort, not perfection
Parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids. – Christine Carter
Step 4: Teach them how to choose gratitude, forgiveness and optimism
“Ten-year-olds who are taught how to think and interpret the world optimistically are half as prone to depression when they later go through puberty. Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”
She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:
- Are more successful at school, work and athletics
- Are healthier and live longer
- End up more satisfied with their marriages
- Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety
Step 5: Raise their emotional intelligence
It’s a skill, not an inborn trait. Parents can help by empathizing with children facing difficult emotions and helping them identify and label what they are feeling. Let them know that all feelings are okay, even though bad behavior isn’t.
Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success.
Step 6: Form happiness habits
How do you help kids build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:
Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way.
Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.
One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower, especially for kids. Solidify one habit before adding another.
Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.
Step 7: Teach self-discipline
Self-discipline in kids is more predictive of future success than intelligence — or most anything else, for that matter.
…preschoolers’ ability to delay gratification–to wait for that second marshmallow–predicts intelligence, school success, and social skills in adolescence.This is at least in part because self-discipline facilitates learning and information processing. In addition, self-disciplined kids cope better with frustration and stress and tend to have a greater sense of social responsibility… – Christine Carter
Step 9: Rig their environment for happiness
Monitor a child’s surroundings so that the family’s deliberate happiness efforts have maximum effect.
Tune out the noise:
…research demonstrates a strong link between happiness and not watching television. Sociologists show that happier people tend to watch considerably less television than unhappy people. We don’t know whether TV makes people unhappy, or if already unhappy people watch more TV. But we do know that there are a lot of activities that will help our kids develop into happy, well-adjusted individuals. If our kids are watching TV, they aren’t doing those things that could be making them happier in the long run. – Christine Carter
Step 10: Eat dinner together
Sometimes all science does is validate those things our grandparents knew all along. Yes, family dinner matters. This simple tradition helps mold better kids and makes them happier too.
Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They got better grades. they have fewer depressive symptoms, particularly among adolescent girls. And they are less likely to become obese or have an eating disorder. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school. And these associations hold even after researchers control for family connectedness… – Christine Carter
Of course, we must prepare our children for the future and teach them how to stand on their own two feet. But personally, I believe that instead of instilling a sense of dread about the future, we should foster a sense of excitement and help them live more in the now, so they can truly enjoy their childhood years.
Ultimately, I think the traits that will most help our kids grow to be happy, grounded and ‘successful’ adults, are gratitude, compassion, love, hope, optimism and focus — and by focus, I mean on how to live a life of meaning and purpose, and not one centered around grabbing a fleeting 15 minutes of fame so many seek these days.