5 Ways to Raise a Happy Child
5 Ways to Raise a Happy Child
In this day and age, everywhere you turn people are giving advice about how to raise your children. If you’re a parent, I’m sure you know what I mean. A lot of the time, when you get advice about parenting, the opposite message is being trumpeted just as loudly. Get your children vaccinated, don’t vaccinate, discipline, don’t discipline, let them ‘cry it out’, don’t ever let your baby cry, only put them on their back to sleep and only by themselves, others champion co-sleeping…this list goes on and on.
As they grow, the amount of advice only grows, too. Only feed them organic food, don’t hinder their childhood, let them make their own choices, don’t let them play games where they might lose, make sure they’re spending 60 minutes a day in active play, teach them sharing is always an option, give them freedom to make their own mistakes, know where they are every moment of every day, don’t ever let them go on sleepovers, never tell them no, give them every opportunity, don’t put them in everything, and it goes on and on and on. As a parent, everywhere you turn, someone is trying to tell you how to raise your child or criticizing how you’re currently raising them.
I sincerely think that the goal of all the advice is the same – they’re trying to help raise healthy, happy, good human beings. As a mother of young children myself, I want that with every fiber of my being – to raise happy, healthy girls who are contributing members of society. However, the endless advice and parenting “rules” are overwhelming and more than a little exhausting…and scary as there’s always a critic right around the corner on social media, brazenly sharing with you about how wrong you’re doing it.
In the midst of the intimidating amount of opinions and advice, my husband and I look to the Word of God for His direction on how to raise a happy child. There is so much parents can glean from the Bible, but here are five specific things we feel are important and try to focus on with our daughters.
Five ways to raise a happy child
1.) Have boundaries & consequences when boundaries are broken.
Over and over throughout Scripture, God gives His children boundaries. Over and over, we see that it is not because He doesn’t want us to enjoy life – it’s actually the opposite! He puts up fences to protect us so that we can enjoy life, instead of experiencing constant pain. His ways lead to abundant life and joy; sin leads to pain and death. In the same way, we set up boundaries for our girls to protect them and give them freedom and joy. When those boundaries are broken, there are consequences. Some consequences are natural consequences while others are given by us that we hope will help them learn to make better decisions in the future. All of life has boundaries and consequences; our prayer is that they will learn to be self-governed and self-disciplined by the time they’re making big life decisions.
An interesting note — over and over we see that our girls enjoy boundaries. It seems so contrary to what we hear from all the parenting gurus out there these days, but they do. We saw it again just recently when we switched babysitters.
The last babysitter we had was wonderful. We love her. She really plays with the girls and they have so much fun with her! They run and they laugh and they sing loud in their remote control-turned-microphones. They play Barbies and hide and seek and she gives them horsey rides around the house. She loves them so much that she hates to tell them no, so, consequently, the two year old chugs Mountain Dew at 8:30 at night, they almost never take naps, and they can convince her to let them watch cartoons that aren’t on Mommy’s approved cartoons list. They have a blast with her.
When college started and her schedule changed, we needed to find a new babysitter and the Lord so kindly provided. A super great girl that we had known where we used to live ended up going to college in our new town and it was a perfect fit! She has a quieter personality and there’s a lot of coloring, playing together on the floor, and (of course!) Barbies. She makes the girls follow our family rules, is diligent about only letting them watch shows on my list, and has expectations for them. I wondered about how they would adjust, but when I talked to our oldest about it, she couldn’t say enough nice things about their new babysitter. She said she feels happy and safe with Annie. Happy and safe.
My mom has often recounted a story a pediatrician told her when I was young. He said, in a study, when children played on a playground without a fence, they tended to cluster together and play close to the building. When there was a fence, they spread out and played all the way to the fence, enjoying their full surroundings. He told her that children – whether or not they realize it – enjoy having boundaries – and we’ve found that to be true in our own lives.
2.) Help them focus on the positives.
David gives us examples of this throughout the Psalms. Despite what is going on, he gives thanks to God. He glorifies God. He focuses on the way the Lord is sustaining him. He looks to the Lord to move on his behalf.
We are intentional about spending a lot of time and effort on this with our kids. When things don’t go our way as a family, we point out what is good about the situation. When things don’t go their way, we help them find the positives. When they talk about something cool someone else has, we encourage them to be happy for their friend, and we remind them of all the wonderful toys they have in their own toy box. Anytime they express anything that could lead to jealousy, we redirect their attention to focus on their own blessings. Anytime they are disappointed, we help them remember what’s going right. Anytime they feel wronged, we help them realize they get to make a decision about how they will react.
We spend a lot of time intentionally empowering them to choose to focus on the positives. And it’s starting to show. Not long ago we were running late, and I was processing with the girls how that was going to affect our day. Ali instantly piped up and said, “Well, mom, that’s a bummer that we’re running late, but at least you remembered us! …So true, sweet girl. Well said. Remembering the children in the midst of our busy day was definitely a positive.
3.) Give them the desires of their hearts when it’s good for them.
God does this. Over and over and over. In Psalms 37, it says when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our heart. He knows that when we delight ourselves in Him, the desires of our heart change to reflect godly desires – desires that He loves to fulfill! How many prayers have you prayed that the Lord has answered? How many times have you simply thought, oh, I would love _______, and He supplied _______. Just today, I got to an appointment, went to grab a piece of gum and realized my package was empty. I thought, oh man, I would love a piece of gum right now. I didn’t pray it, I just thought it. Then I grabbed my keys and ran into my appointment. As soon as I walked in the door, the lady I had an appointment with was putting a piece of gum in her mouth and offered one to me. Thanks, Lord!
But that doesn’t always happen. God isn’t a genie in a bottle. When it’s good for us, He loves to give us the desires of our hearts, but when it isn’t good for us or the timing isn’t right, He reserves the right to delay or deny our requests.
That’s how we need to be with our kids, too. When they’re wanting a good thing and the timing is right, we should delight to give them the desires of their heart. But when it’s not good for them, or it’s simply not the right timing, we need to reserve the right to say, “No,” or “Not now.” We do not always have to say yes to everything our kids want. We are not their genie in a bottle. We are their parents. There’s a difference. We are supposed to have the wisdom and discernment to know when to say yes and when to say no, and to have the courage to do both as needed.
4.) Pray with them, give thanks out loud.
A good portion of the Bible is a prayer or about prayer. In Matthew 6, 10 verses are devoted to teaching us how to pray. Over and over, Scripture instructs us how to pray (Matt. 26:41, Phil. 4:6, Matt. 5:44, Matt. 6, and so many more!). Over and over, Scripture tells us to give thanks to the LORD. This is a big deal. And so, it’s a big deal in our household, too.
Every morning we pray together as we start our day. We give thanks for the ways God has blessed us, for each person in our family, for the plans that He has for us. Then we bring our requests before God, hand them over to Him, and do our best to leave them at the foot of His cross for the day.
This daily morning prayer does a lot of things, but two of my favorite things I see it accomplish in our girls, is that 1.) I see them acknowledging how truly blessed they are through it. It opens awareness and compassion for others, when they verbally and thoughtfully thank God for the good water they have to drink, for their sisters, for a warm house, etc. This also sets a tone of contentment and thankfulness in our family. Remembering your blessings helps you focus on those, rather than your lack. Subsequently, we don’t have a lot of whining or selfishness in our household. (Don’t get me wrong. They’re toddlers, so it happens, but it’s not the culture of our family.)
And 2.) it also gives us an opportunity to share in each other’s cares, to support one another, to believe God together, and to invite Him to work in our family. For example, for the past year, our three and five year olds have been praying – nearly daily – for a particularly difficult neighbor, and against all natural sensibility, they have a very special, God-given love for her that transcends my human understanding. While God may not be visibly moving in her life, He is visibly moving in the girls’ hearts, expanding their compassion, and filling them with love. That’s an amazing thing to see, and just one of the many benefits of praying together.
5.) Shower them with love and verbal affirmation.
All throughout the Scriptures, God affirms His love for His people. He lets them know how special they are to Him, how He feels about them, how He thinks about them. He assures them that He will care for them, protect them, defend them, and fight for them. He lets them know that He is for them and not against them. That He is present and will help them in times of trouble.
In the same way, it’s imperative that we are affirming our kids daily that we love them, that we’re here for them, that we’re protecting and providing for them. We need to share our encouraging thoughts and feelings toward them, be clear about our expectations, and offer praise when they try hard.
We take the conversation culture in our house very seriously. We speak kindly. We encourage. We edify. We affirm. We play games in the car where everyone has to say what they love about someone else in the family. At the dinner table we go around in a circle and encourage one another with something we see them exceling at. We’re intentional about speaking worth and confidence into our children’s developing identities.
One of the things we started when I was still carrying our first, was to speak right to her every day. We have done it nearly every night since, with each of our kids. As we’re tucking them into bed, we look in their beautiful eyes and say, “__________, you are loved. You are wanted. You are adored. You’re delighted in. You are treasured and you’re cherished. I love you so much.” It remains one of their favorite moments of the day. And you know what, they act loved. They know they’re wanted. They act like they’re adored and delight in, treasured and cherished. Even though we’ve felt such importance on affirming them and speaking into them since before they were born, we have been astounded by how much these positive words had affected their self-image and their behavior.
We are not perfect parents. We’re not doing it perfectly right. Every single day we’re trying to navigate the new challenges of the super messy, super exhausting, super wonderful journey of parenthood. Some days we feel like we do pretty well, other days we feel like we absolutely fail. Some nights I sneak into the girls’ room and kiss their little foreheads before I head to bed and feel happy about our day; other nights I give them goodnight kisses through my tears, and pray that God will help me do better in the morning — and give them grace to forgive me for all the ways I failed.
One thing I know, though, is that our girls are really, really happy children. They love life. They live with enthusiastic joy. They are constantly smiling. They’re thankful for what they have. They’re confident in who they are. They are usually (not always!) well behaved and enjoyable to have around. They enjoy life and we enjoy life with them. We may not be doing everything right, but looking to the Scriptures for how to raise happy children, has given us happy children.
Happiness isn’t brought by getting them the latest toys, the newest gadgets, or never saying no. I think happy children is a by-product of teaching them to be thankful, to focus on the positives, to have compassion, to be self-governed, to respect boundaries, and to know they are loved and cherished.
There’s more – so much more – to being good parents, which I’m sure any number of people will be happy to share their opinions on, but being intentional about these five things has had a really positive impact on our children. It’s helped us have a happy family, and our hope and prayer is that it might help you too.
This is the sixth blog in an eight week series on happiness. To make sure you don’t miss the next two, sign up for my newsletter!