Some time ago, my husband and I got uneasy with our childrens’ shyness, as they seem short of friends at infant school. Knowing that the more connections a child can make, the better for their wellbeing as balanced and happy kids, we wondered about what we could do differently to help them. After all, like the vast majority of parents, all we want in life is to see them happy.
So, thinking together, we found a simple way that had a wonderful result. It was enough to change the isolated and quiet playground where we used to take them on a regular basis, for another one which was much more popular among the parents from that school. In doing so, I believe we supported our children to come out of their shyness, without acting like pushy parents and it was the beginning of a string of friends for them.
It’s important to bear in mind that to be without any friends at all can make all of us become especially vulnerable. As parents, we can support and encourage our young children to have healthy relationships among relatives, friends, scout groups and the sporting community. I understand it is not so simple and easy to support teenage children to form connections with other people, but they can be encouraged to find their own way, without depending on us.
In the past, children used to have different chances to form connections with peers, as they used to attend Sunday school as well as school. However, Sundays have now become a sports and shopping day, with children adjusting accordingly. Besides, with the rapid expansion of the Internet, connections have also started to be made via social media, as children are given the chance to access the whole world through mobile phones and tablets every day, putting them in situations which were unimaginable a few decades ago. It’s a dangerous but heady mix. So, they have been forced to grow up faster, to enter our highly untrusting world long before they are mature and in so doing, become prouder, independent, strong-willed and more sophisticated than ever.
Everybody has innate needs for comfort, security and attention, but now these needs have been overlooked, as young generations have been glorifying competition and becoming obsessed with getting ahead whatever the cost. Lacking spiritual values and good guidance in late adolescence, many children are now savage, angry, depressed and even black of heart, whilst the sensitive ones answer with fear for life. The vulnerable and the delicate have been shockingly harassed in our modern society by others with unmet needs, such as bullies and their accomplices. Suicide is the leading cause of death for young men in the UK and they are also the ones who drink heavily and also become homicidal.
On top of that, many parents are spending less time trying to fix their problems in marriage before troubling the divorce courts and there is increasing competition for college places. How do we parents feel when we realise that these days it is more difficult for a child to be happy than in past generations? Needless to say, our hearts ache….
Probably it would be unwise to stop our children from accessing the Internet, as they could become alienated from our whole modern society, but we can still help them to be happy in many ways. If you go to your childrens’ bedrooms to say goodnight and find them with their tablets, maybe the best thing to do is to ban those computers from their bedrooms at night, as a way to aid a good night’s sleep. You can also ditch those thin curtains and invest in blackout ones. It has been proved that young children and teenagers need to sleep at least 8 hours in a row, as happiness and good night’s sleep seem to go hand-in-hand. In the same way, healthy food is also essential and we can’t ignore that many children are now overweight, which increases their likelihood of diseases related to obesity. But to invest in healthy food doesn’t mean our children have to give up completely on the stuff they, mistakenly, enjoy if we can encourage regular physical activity through games played in teams, like volleyball, football, tennis, rugby, cricket and even martial arts or bowling. It is much better if you can practise that physical activity together with your child, as in so doing, you may find the best opportunity to say to them how you appreciate the positive side of life, feel grateful for having a family, for being healthy, for having a roof over your head, food on your table every day when so many others don’t have the same and so on. If you can’t play in teams with your kids, there are other physical activities you can do together, such as a simple walk, family games and even jumping into the water with them for a swimming session.
Another way that can help to lead our children to happiness is to show them your kindness and generosity and your refusal to accept arrogance, selfishness and self-regard. As my children were learning from me that I am a hair aficionada, I decided to make clear that I can give it up if it comes to helping a child in need. So, last year, I had a haircut and gave away over 30 cm of my tresses to a charity called “Little Princess Trust”. I’m not suggesting you should do the same or encouraging you to donate one of your kidneys to teach your kids the importance of altruism and benevolence, actually, if you can spare your unwanted clothes and shoes to any charity shop, I believe you will be showing that any donation is a act of love and selflessness, which can make us feel better and happier. After all, little things do mean a lot.
A couple of days ago, I was trying to motivate my 7 year-old daughter to make a better use of her time during school holidays. Without forcing her, I said that I would like to read Rapunzel’s story (her favourite), rewritten in her own words, as I used to enjoy rewriting fairytales when I was the same age. She said to me she didn’t like writing, which made me frustrated. As my daughter, she was supposed to get delighted when composing. About half an hour later, she came with an unexpected surprise; she had painted a picture of Rapunzel and I found the combination of the colours she had chosen absolutely fantastic. I remembered there were some artists in my husband’s family and so my daughter probably has taken after them. That episode taught me that she is not my ‘mini-me’, so now I know she won’t naturally follow a prescribed path and it would be unfair to put her under unnecessary pressure.
It is understandable that we parents are proud of our children, want only the best for them and love to show them off, but when I saw my daughter’s painting, I decided to be very careful not to say to her “you are going to be an English Da Vinci”. Obviously, that would be complete nonsense, but more often than not many parents tell their children that they are clever and gifted. The paediatricians are pretty unanimous in declaring parents to be people with unrealistic fantasies and expectations of their children. So, if a boy plays football well, his dad declares him a Pele. If he is a fast runner, he hears he is going to leave Mo Farah behind. If a girl is pretty, she will be bigger than Kate Moss. The question is: are high intelligence and exceptional beauty the key to happiness? And what is the effect of all this praise on a young mind? Little minds are not ready to understand their parents’ inner feelings and may end up taking it wrongly. If a child is only praised for their achievements, they will learn that they need to achieve to win their parents’ approval, otherwise they won’t be loved. If our children grow up believing they are valued for something that is out of their control, such as achievements, it can undermine their confidence later. It means they are more likely to stop trying and become timid, for fear of failing. So they may be set for an unfulfilled and anxious life. Instead, if we parents learn to focus our praises on the effort rather than the result, we will be bolstering our children’s self-esteem, as they can control their effort but not their achievements, therefore they will be more likely to develop their potentials and be happier, keeping their minds open for growth and development.
Praising our pretty daughters for their beauty can make them believe the fallacy “I am loved because I am beautiful”. In this way, many parents unwittingly record in their daughters’ brain that the most important thing in life is to be attractive. Will our girls find it easy to get older and naturally lose their looks? Or will they spend a huge amount of time and money on sophisticated cosmetics and plastic surgery to fight off the effects of time? When in the future their partners, friends and family members find all the anxiety incomprehensible, they should remember the childhood game of pass the parcel. As each layer is removed something else is revealed, until the original message is discovered; “I am approved for my beauty”, as that was the first framework recorded in her mind.
Actually, only a very small minority are born with astonishing talents and levels of intelligence, or stunning looks, but you could start to support your children better by just stopping praising their achievements and shouting to the whole world that your pretty daughters are going to be models. You could also ask other family members to do the same, I am sure they will feel very pleased about truly helping the kids.
We parents can still educate ourselves about the right parenting style and getting more involved with our children. Instead of indulging ourselves in negative thoughts, such as “I am an incompetent parent”, we can manage things better by just changing our tack. If your toddlers have any sort of crisis, do you comfort them with sweets and new toys? You may say this type of present makes them very happy and probably also makes them, at least temporarily, stop bothering you, but how will your child develop resilience and learn to cope in the future when they need to bounce back from life’s setbacks? Frustrations are part of our normal lives and our children must learn they can’t be rewarded with a new toy or sweets every time they have a crisis. Actually, we parents should stop trying to make them feel that happiness is the only goal.
Equally, to be blindly devoted to our children may not help them in the long run, as parents who devote themselves completely to their children are the ones who find themselves entitled to make most demands in the future, such as “I gave you my life, so why can’t you just study to be a doctor as I always dreamed for you?”. Sadly, such an unfair expectation certainly generates unnecessary anxiety and guilt feelings. Unreasonable devotion can lead to unreasonable demands in the future, so parents should look after their interests as well, instead of trying to make their children realise things they didn’t do in their own lives.
Our moods matter to our children. If we forget ourselves along the way, we increase our likelihood for depression, which will inevitably affect our offspring. If we are happy, our children are also more likely to be happy. If our children can simply learn that “dad loves mum and mum loves dad”, we will be making a huge contribution to their healthy balance and proper development. Perhaps, taking a holiday with all your family is one of the best things you can do to invest in your emotional wellbeing and your beloved.
We can keep our unrealistic fantasies to ourselves, as other people don’t need to acknowledge them. Expecting our children to make them true is to put on their shoulders a huge and unfair burden. Actually, the vast majority of human beings are able to become better at many fields if they are adequately motivated and give their best in terms of concentration and effort. Parents can be supportive of their children if they give them unconditional love, but not unreasonable devotion and more chances to form social connections that will allow them success and failure. Good schooling is essential and working parents should also be concerned about good child care. We parents need our inner strength to act with clear and firm leadership, setting boundaries and making reasonable demands. In this way, we will be encouraging our children to find their own path to true happiness.