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5 Keys to Raising a Happy Child

Posted 5/8/2017 by UHBlog

What makes kids happy? Talk to us about parenting best-practice tips that help children flourish.

5 Keys to Raising a Happy Child

The greatest wish of most parents is for their children to be happy. So when your children are feeling sad or depressed, your natural instinct may be to give them things: ice cream, toys, advice. But emotional comfort is just as important as material support in raising happy children, says developmental/behavioral pediatrician Marie Clark, MD, MPH.

“There are basic things that all children need," Dr. Clark says. "They need to feel safe. They need food and clothing and shelter.”

Once those needs are met, children - in order to be happy - have to learn confidence and how to navigate through rough spots. Though you can't go through this process for them, you can be there cheering them on and giving them support.

“A happy child is a child who feels loved,” Dr. Clark says.

Dr. Clark offers these five additional tips to help raise happy kids:

  1. When spending time with your child, let him or her choose which books to read or activities to do. There is no substitute for one-on-one time with your kids.

    “Those moments help build positive, nurturing relationships,” Dr. Clark says.

    These bonds provide the building blocks of happiness. But often during these times, parents tend to take the lead on deciding what activities to do. Instead, step back from that role and let your kids develop confidence that comes from the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

    “Putting the focus on the child's interest really validates him or her as someone with his or her own desires and opinions that are important,” she says.

  2. Make sure your child spends time outside. Between school and homework, children have many responsibilities that can keep them indoors much of the day. But being cooped up inside too long can be detrimental to your kids' physical and emotional health, Dr. Clark says.

    “Research shows that spending time in green spaces helps boost both your mood and your mental health,” she says.

  3. Assure your child he or she doesn't need dozens of friends to be happy. “Social relationships can be a great source of happiness,” she says. But kids often mistake popularity for happiness.

    “It's important to take away that relationship pressure,” Dr. Clark says. “All a person really needs is one or two good friends to feel fulfilled.”

  4. Provide appropriate boundaries for your kids. “Sometimes parents fall into the trap of thinking that if they provide everything a child wants, the child will be happy,” Dr. Clark says.

    According to Dr. Clark, kids crave and need security. It makes them feel safe - though they might not ever admit it to you.

    “Children are actually happiest when they know what their boundaries are,” she says.

  5. Avoid the comparison trap. Every child is blessed with different skills. One of the best things you can do for your children is to treat them individually and not compare them to anyone else.

    “Comparisons put a lot of pressure on kids,” Dr. Clark says. “When they are held up as being superior to others, they feel a lot of pressure to maintain that position. When they are held up as doing worse compared to others, they may want to give up or not even try because they think they'll never be as good as the others.”

    Happiness comes, in part, Dr. Clark says, from acceptance of one's self, which only happens when your children are not constantly measuring themselves against others.

Marie Clark, MD, MPH, is a developmental/behavioral pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Clark or any other doctor online.

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