5 Tips For Parents On How To Raise A House Of Happy Children

Oftentimes, we misjudge what we think our children value most. Here's how to align your parenting tactics with their needs.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 18, 2024

When asked what they thought their happiest moments together were, parents and their children often had different answers. Parents usually overestimate or underestimate how happy their children are, according to a February study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

"Parents and children disagree on children's happiness levels and tend to identify different episodes as the happiest moments spent together," the researchers explained.

The difference in perspective between parents and children about a child's happiness usually occurs for two reasons:

  • Positivity bias. This is parents' tendency to overestimate their children's happiness while underestimating negative emotions they may be going through.
  • Egocentric bias. This is parents' tendency to judge their children's level of happiness using their own level of happiness during shared memories as a yardstick, leading to inaccurate perceptions of a child's individual experience.

Parents' more positively skewed perceptions of their children's lives can get in the way of understanding and investing in moments that make their children authentically happy. It is essential to get to know one's children on a deeper level and learn about their inner desires and experiences more objectively to create a happier bond.

Here are five ways to engage with your children that make them truly happy, based on the study.

1. Embrace Outdoor Experiences

Researchers suggest that indoor time at home and school often dominate a child's time, making outdoor experiences happier and freeing.

Outdoor activities, such as spending time in nature, going on holiday and experiencing new places or simply spending free time going to restaurants, movies, parks and more are associated with higher levels of happiness in children.

"These episodes represent a break from the monotony of the daily routine and children are more likely to be happy when they spend time away from home, knowing that their parents can devote more care and attention to them with no distractions," the researchers explained.

Researchers found that parents and children in the study agreed that these were some of the happiest moments in a child's life. A child feels that they have their parent all to themselves, also relishing moments without other siblings or parents involved.

2. Engage In Shared Activities

Shared activities such as cooking, doing household chores, creating art together, organizing a day of activities or a planning party together can make children happier.

"Another recurring happy moment refers to episodes in which children help their parents in some activity or, conversely, episodes in which parents help children. Several participants reported how these activities created closeness between children and parents," the researchers added.

They suggested that activities such as teaching a child to ride a bicycle or making dinner together not only act as educational opportunities to pass on important knowledge, values or life skills, they also allow children to navigate different kinds of relationships. They learn to cooperate with others while offering quality time together and strengthening the parent-child relationship.

3. Create Playful moments

Children deeply enjoy moments of leisure and playtime with parents. This may include using puzzles, board games or engaging in physical play such as running, skiing and playing basketball or playful contact such as tickling.

Playful interactions are essential to a child's psychological development. Research suggests that children express a variety of positive emotions such as joy and satisfaction and release negative feelings such as anxiety and frustration through play.

"Playtime between parents and children allows adults to understand their children's thoughts and emotions but also, represents an opportunity for parents to become children again," the researchers added.

4. Be Openly Affectionate

Emotional and physical affection plays an important role in cementing parent-child bonds and bringing joy, warmth and safety to a child's life.

"Participants identified affection, such as care, assistance or kindness, as the central elements of the happiest moment spent together. Emotional affectivity includes the affective aspects of relationships, like emotional support, sharing, intimacy and proximity. Physical affectivity considers the affective aspects of physical contacts, like cuddles or hugs," the researchers explained.

Being able to vent to parents, being comforted by them, learning important perspectives from them and feeling a reliable, comforting presence when they are struggling can reduce children's stress, helping them cope with difficult emotions and feel loved and supported.

5. Surprise Them With Gifts

Researchers found that although it is not as important as having shared experiences, children's happy moments with parents also consist of receiving gifts such as toys, clothes or pets.

Thoughtful gifts can make children feel as though their needs and desires are important and worth attending to. However, parents do tend to believe that these moments are a child's happiest more often than the children actually do.

"In several cases, parents who consider receiving gifts as a source of happiness have children who feel happier during moments of affection, play or shared activity with their parents," the researchers explain.

The importance of material gifts evolves with age, increasing in preadolescence and gradually decreasing in adolescence, as experiencing a loving connection gains more importance than material gifts. Parents may have difficulty recognizing this change and instead offer children what they think they want.

Parents and children may have different ways of wanting to give and receive love and support. Learning a child's "love language" and investing in joyful experiences with them could be the key to loving them the way they need to be loved.

Do you feel overwhelmed or burnt out by your parenting responsibilities? Take the Parental Burnout Assessment to learn more.

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