How to Raise Happy Kids for Success in Life

Giving your kids happy, healthy childhoods could set them up for success in life. But many parents wonder, how exactly do you raise happy kids in today’s world? Raising happy kids isn’t about giving them momentary pleasure or immediate gratification. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Happy kids have a skill set that allows them to enjoy long-term happiness in life. They’re able to pass up instant gratification in an effort to reach their goals. You can help your kids develop those skills by adopting healthy, lifelong habits. Here are 10 ways to raise happy kids.

how to raise happy kids
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Encourage Outdoor Play

Don’t underestimate the power of outdoor play. Running on the grass, climbing trees, sitting on a swing, and digging in the dirt is good for kids.

Studies show scents associated with nature, like pine trees, cut grass, and lavender can boost your child’s mood.1 So you might encourage your child to read a book outside or do their homework on the porch just to give him an instant boost in happiness.

Outdoor play can also improve social skills in children. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that children who increased their time playing outside increased their empathy, engagement, and self-control—which are critical social skills.2

Kids with better social skills are likely to enjoy healthier relationships.

One study found kids with better social skills are also twice as likely to go to college and less likely to experience substance abuse, obesity, and violence.3 So, make outdoor play a daily habit. Even when the weather isn’t perfect, encourage your kids to ride their bikes, play with neighborhood kids, and run around in the great outdoors.


Limit Screen Time

Your child might insist that playing endless hours of video games makes him happy. But too much screen time is bad for your child’s psychological well-being. A 2018 study published in the journal Emotion found that adolescents who spent less time on their digital devices and more time on non-screen activities, like sports, homework, religious services, and other in-person activities were happier.4

Establish clear limits on your child’s screen time. If he has a smartphone, limit his access when you’re doing family activities, riding in the car, or when he’s playing outside. And set clear guidelines about how much time he can spend watching TV and using the computer.


Practice Gratitude

Incorporating gratitude into your everyday lives could help kids become happier, healthier people. But, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between forcing a “thank you” and genuinely meaning it.

2012 study on gratitude found that grateful people enjoy better relationships—and that can be key to living a happier life.5 One of the best ways to help kids become genuinely grateful is by modeling gratitude.

Express sincere thanks when you are grateful for someone else. Expressing gratitude for the things your children do will teach them to do the same.

Make it a family habit to talk about the things you feel grateful for. Identify three things you’re grateful for at the dinner table or talk about what you’re grateful for at bedtime. This will help your children learn to look for things they can be grateful for in their daily lives.

Make it a habit to send thank you notes too. Instead of just signing his name, encourage your child to identify something specific he wants to thank someone for. You don’t have to save thank you notes for gifts either. You might encourage your child to write a thank you note to his teacher for helping him during the school year or you might write a note to a coach who was especially kind.


Have High but Reasonable Expectations

While it’s not fun to spend hours studying for a test or practicing a musical instrument, kids who strive to do hard things are more likely to live happier lives. Your expectations have a big impact on your child’s willingness to challenge himself. Your kids will work hard to meet your expectations as long as your expectations are reasonable.

Studies show when parents have high academic expectations of their children, children do better in school and they persist longer at hard tasks.6 High expectations are also linked to scholastic and social resilience.

But it’s important to note that you shouldn’t expect perfection. Setting the bar too high for your child is likely to backfire. Expecting your child to be perfect could increase your child’s risk of mental health issues. Your child may also give up on her goals set for her if she feels like you set the bar impossibly high.


Teach Self-Control

Eating an extra cookie, ditching homework for fun with friends, and binge-watching TV instead of doing chores might give kids momentary pleasure. But, in the long run, a lack of self-control hurts more than it helps.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Personality found that people with better self-control report more good moods.7 Interestingly, however, researchers noted that people with better self-control also didn’t put themselves in tempting situations as often as other people. They essentially set themselves up to be happy.

Start teaching your child self-discipline at an early age. At the same time, teach her not to surround herself with too many temptations. A few ways you might assist her in doing this could include:

  • Put a basket in the kitchen for smartphones. Tell your child to put her smartphone in the basket when she’s doing homework so she’s not tempted to surf the internet when she’s supposed to be doing her work.
  • Put all electronics in a common area of the home before bedtime. Then, your child won’t be tempted to use her tablet or her phone when she’s in bed.
  • Stock the refrigerator and cabinets with healthy food choices. If you keep some sweet treats in the house, make them more difficult to access—by putting them on high shelves or placing them in the back of the pantry out of sight.

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