15 Secrets to Raising Happy Kids

Judy Dutton | Mar 24, 2015 Big Kid
15 Secrets to Raising Happy Kids

mom and daughter

If there's one thing all parents want for their kids, it's this: to be happy. Sure, becoming a doctor or Internet billionaire would be a nice bonus, but happiness is the true benchmark that you've raised your kids right. So what's the secret to instill this sunny outlook in your kids?

Well, it turns out scientists have unraveled what parents can do, specifically, to raise their kids' contentment levels. So if you need some pointers on how to put a smile on your child's face, look no further than this list of ideas.

Wow, #8 will be such a relief to working moms!


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  • Praise Effort Over Achievement


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    It's in a parents' DNA to beam when their kids get straight A's or pitch a winning little league game… but a study from Columbia University found that kids who believe their parents highly value achievement are more likely to show signs of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Instead, try to focus on their effort rather than the results -- i.e., say "you spent a lot of time on that science project " rather than "Ooh, you won first place, I'm so proud!"

  • Don't Treat Your Kids the Same


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    Parents have all heard they should treat their kids the same… well, that's not exactly true if you want them to be happy. One study by the University of Washington found that parents who treat their kids differently based on their personalities are half as likely to end up with kids with depression or anxiety as parents who take a blanket approach. So if one child craves more attention while the other is fine without, feel free to be flexible without feeling like you're playing favorites.

    More from The Stir: 13 Surprising Scientific Facts About Siblings

  • Encourage Your Kids to Share


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    We all know it's important to coach our kids to share… but did you know it makes them happier, too? In studies at the University of British Columbia, toddlers appeared happier giving treats to a monkey puppet than receiving them, or sharing toys rather than playing with them on their own.

    More from The Stir: Your Toddler Refuses to Share: What Should You Do?

  • Let Them Fail


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    Failure is a bummer… yet studies at The Greater Good Science Center show that kids who face more challenges in life -- and who, as a result, fail more often -- are far happier than kids with few or no challenges. Of course, always failing will instill learned helplessness, but a healthy mix of wins and losses creates a robust sense of optimism. Your kids know that if they fail, that's okay, because they may win next time.

  • Be Gay


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    We mean literally. According to a study by the University of Melbourne in Australia, children of gay parents scored an average of 6 percent higher than the population at large on measures of health and family cohesion. Researchers theorize this is because homosexual families are more likely to equally distribute child care and domestic duties than heterosexual couples, which leads to more family harmony all round.

  • Make Sure You're Happy


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    While many moms may feel selfish prioritizing their happiness, doing so does your kids a huge favor. One study found that a mother's satisfaction with her life was more important to her child's emotional state than her income, education, or -- here's the clincher -- the amount of time her kids spent in day care. So stop being a martyr, and have fun.

  • Stop Helicoptering!


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    Helicopter parents may have the best of intentions, but all that hovering does actually backfire. According to one study of 297 college students, kids with over-controlling parents were more likely to suffer from depression than kids with more autonomy. Plus, according to research by the University of Missouri, mothers who tend to hover around their kids at age 2 end up with fifth graders who don't like their moms very much!

    More from The Stir: 20 Signs You're a Helicopter Parent

  • Get a Job


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    If you think your kids would be happier if you stayed at home with them, we've got news for you: studies show that kids in day care suffer no more behavioral problems than kids with stay-at-home moms. In fact, daughters of working moms end up with fewer emotional problems. So don't stay home for your kids' sakes!

  • Stop at Just One


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    Only children get a bad rap for being sad, lonely sorts, only science argues otherwise. One study from the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that sibling rivalry bred unhappy kids. So if you're feeling guilty about being "one and done," it's time to pat yourself on the back instead.

    More from The Stir: 16 Reasons Only Children Love Being Onlies

  • Act Immature


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    Parents don't always have to be grown-ups, you know. In fact, according to research presented by the Economic and Social Research Council, when parents joke or pretend with their kids -- by, say, making a sponge "talk" like a duck or holding a "funny face" contest -- they're teaching their kids how to think creatively, manage stress, solve problems, and make friends. That's some serious payoff in the happiness department, so go ahead and get silly with your kids.

  • Move to the Country


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    Growing up surrounded by trees, flowers, and fields isn't just about pretty scenery. One study published in the journal Environment and Behavior examining 337 rural children found that kids with high levels of "nearby nature" had lower stress levels than those without.

    More from The Stir: 7 Benefits of Raising Kids in the Country

  • Turn Off the TV


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    TV not only turns kids into couch potatoes; it may also dampen their mood. One study of more than 4,000 teens at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard Medical School found that the more TV kids watched, the greater their likelihood of depression, with those odds increasing with every additional hour of viewing. Oddly this was not necessarily true with videocassettes (or DVDs in today's parlance), computer games, or radio. But suffice to say, this is one more reason to limit tube time for kids. 

  • Get Dad More Involved


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    Of course, a mother's love is a powerful thing... but don't forget about Dad! One study in the Personality and Social Psychology Review found that dads may have a bigger impact on a child's future happiness and sense of well being. Don't feel slighted; this just means you should both shower your kids with love.

  • Give Birth in the Summer


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    If you want a baby with a sunny disposition, more sunlight helps! A study by Vanderbilt University found that babies born in the summer are less depressed than those born in other seasons because all that sunlight reduces the risk of seasonal affective disorder, bipolar depression, and schizophrenia.

    More from The Stir: 10 Surprising Facts About Babies Born During the Winter

  • Move to Mexico


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    Where you live can impact your kids' outlook. And according to the Global Kids Happiness Index -- which asked 4,000 children age 6 to 12 in 12 developed countries how they feel about their life circumstances -- the happiest kids live in Mexico, followed by Spain, Brazil, Germany, and the U.S. So your kids hang in the middle -- but hey, at least you don't live in the least happy countries (Japan and Poland).

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