Giving kids happy childhoods should (hopefully) set them up to become well-rounded and content adults.
It goes without saying that parents want their kids to be happy, but achieving this is another matter altogether. Here’s the thing, we all know that giving into your child’s every demand is not going to bode well for the future (spoilt brat, much?), but it’s actually doing the exact opposite of trying to make your kid happy that will have the desired result.
Have you heard of the Marshmallow Test? In one of the most famous pieces of social-science research from the 1960s, children were offered one marshmallow to eat immediately, but were told if they waited 15 minutes and didn’t eat the first one, they could have two. The researcher would then leave the room and see what happened.
Irresistible, right? Well, you can guess what most of the kids did, but in follow-up studies the children who had been patient enough to wait for two marshmallows were seen to do better at school, then work and life in general.
Lake Street Nursery kids enjoyed hand printing their garden fence ahead of the annual fundraising fete on May 11. Pic credit: Richard Cave.
So it seems that happy kids have a skillset that allows them to enjoy long-term happiness in life. They’re able to pass up instant gratification – like the single marshmallow – in an effort to reach their goals.
You can help your kids develop those skills by adopting healthy, lifelong habits. Here’s three ways to do this:
Encourage outdoor play
Learning by play, especially outdoors, be that climbing trees, digging in the dirt or playing on a swing, is so good for children (and adults!). It can even improve their social skills. Research found that kids who spent more time outside increased their empathy, engagement and self-control – all critical life skills needed to feel happy.
And if that’s not enough, further studies have shown that being in nature can boost those all-important happy hormones. Specifically, a walk in the woods can reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 12%, while just being close to trees can boost short-term memory by 20%. It’s the perfect way to recharge your emotional batteries and feel good, experts believe. And don’t let the weather put you off – there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.
Eat dinner together
It’s not always easy to gather the troops to sit down together for a meal, but when you can, you will reap the rewards. Research found that those children who had a lot of family meals were more positive in adolescence. Another study revealed that families who ate together had more ‘glass half full’ attitudes. Eating a home-cooked meal is also a great way to show love and enjoy each other’s company as a family – and it promotes good health. Plus, children who eat with their parents are less likely to be overweight, studies have found.
It might sound a little cheesy, but saying daily ‘thank-yous’ for the things you are grateful for in life, and encouraging your kids to do the same, has been recognised as boosting happiness. Grateful people enjoy better relationships, say experts, and that can be the key to living a healthier, happier life.
One of the best ways to achieve this is by example: 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. Don’t just save this behaviour for presents, either. You could encourage your child to write a thank you note to their teacher for helping them during the school year or to a grandparent for looking after them for the afternoon.
This article was written by journalist Maddy Biddulph, who is on the Committee at Lake Street Nursery in South Oxford. The nursery, ranked ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, currently has spaces for 2-4 years olds for its September term and beyond. It has a huge garden and bamboo jungle trail perfect for outdoor play (see secret one to raising happy kids), as well as experienced, fun-loving staff. Find out more by calling 01865 727939, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.lakestreetnursery.org.uk.
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