How to raise happy kids, according to science

Photo credit:The Week

Your child’s happiness is, of course, of utmost importance to you. But what specifically can you do to ensure that you raise genuinely happy kids? Eric Barker, author of “Barking Up The Wrong Tree,” takes a look at what we can learn from scientific research. Since studies show that happier parents tend to have happier kids, he suggests doing what you can to make sure that you are happy. One way to do that is to include time in your weekly schedule for simply having fun with friends and family. Laughter is good for your well-being.

For your kids, playtime is more than just a fun experience. Barker points out the role it plays in their development: “Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior and speak up for themselves.”

And research shows that the ability to develop good relationships is a key to happiness. Barker advises parents “to start by encouraging kids to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.” They will be the better for it.

And to those parents who are perfectionists, Barker says, “cool it.” He points out: “The research is very consistent: Praise effort, not natural ability.” He cautions against putting too much emphasis on achievement, which can sometimes backfire by leading to anxiety and depression. But doing what you can to encourage your kids to be optimistic will have just the opposite affect. Research shows that those who have a positive outlook tend to be happier and less likely to be depressed.

Family dinners are another key to raising happy children and well worth the time and effort. Barker explains the many benefits: “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. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school.”

The Week, 4/7/14

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