When I hear about the numbers of children nowadays, even primary age children, who’ve experienced anxiety, depression or other mental health problems, it makes you wonder what’s gone wrong with society. Why are so many people getting ill with so many mental health problems. Has everything really changed so much since I was a child or was it just that before it was all behind hidden doors and only now is it all emerging as problems to be talked about? It makes me feel really grateful because I’ve not experienced anything like that myself. And so far, N hasn’t either.
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How happy can a child be?
N has always been a pretty happy child. In the past, around his 3rd and 4th birthday, he had a couple of weeks where we had a bit of anger and a lot of ‘no’s. He also moans quite a bit about going out to places he’s not keen on. It means a bit of negotiation is needed. But generally he’s a smiley child and is full of laughter.
But there’s always a worry that children bottle things up. I wasn’t a very open child, I kept myself to myself, and while I let things roll off my back, sometimes you do worry about things. So I always try and get N to communicate. Or at least know that he can talk to me (or the OH or other members of the family) about any worries he has.
When I ask how school was that day, I’ll usually get an ‘it was okay’ or ‘good’, and occasionally a ‘not great’. But he never elaborates until later in the evening. N definitely needs time to get past an event before he can remember and think about it. But he’ll open up before bedtime when we share our days.
What I believe helps have a happy child
1. Relaxed parenting
I’m definitely not a relaxed person in general life. I’m a type A personality. But as soon as I was pregnant I tried to relax a lot more because I knew from looking at other mums, those who were laidback and chilled out, tended to have easier to look after babies. It’s also why I think a lot of 2nd children are more relaxed than their older siblings because their parents have been more relaxed after going through all the stress of having a new baby already and knowing what they’re doing with the second.
It seems to have worked because N is generally very relaxed and he has been an easy child (so far).
Ongoing communication from an early age has to be good. Children know then that they’re being listened to but that they also need to learn to listen to others. It means an open environment to ask questions and be told the truth in answers.
Setting up a regular opportunity to talk helps too. We always chat before bedtime and ask each other about our day.
3. Close network – family and friends
We all need family and/or friends. That support network. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child. Having support helps parents be happier and more relaxed and that in turn makes a child feel more secure.
Some people say they want to be the only ones raising their child but if you’re lucky enough to have supportive friends and family nearby, it’s really valuable to have that. I’m sure having family nearby and having more people around has helped make N more comfortable being around lots of different people. He’s certainly learnt how to get on with people – different types of adults and children. He’s happy to muck in and they all respond well to him as well.
4. Clear routine
We’ve always had a reasonable routine. I’d planned to use Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby routine for N as a baby, but he was having none of it. He fell into his own routine, helped by him being able to sleep anywhere. But bath and bedtime was always the same. While it wasn’t set in stone, keeping things in the same structure really helps children see were they fit into the home and family.
That assurance and confidence means children will grow up knowing the rules and structure, feeling comfortable, but hopefully able to question it when needed as they grow up.
5. Clarity of expectations
Within a clear structure and routine, I believe children need to know what’s expected of them. I’m certainly more relaxed about parenting than my mum was, but we’re also very clear on how we expect N to behave. Because N is generally a good boy, he probably gets a lot more leeway than he should do, and would do if he didn’t behave as well.
There should be lots of laughter in children’s lives. Proper bending over, stomach hurting laughter. And knowing that parents laugh with them.
We have plenty of laughter together, lots of silly moments, and enjoying life. Sometimes laughing at the ridiculous makes us all feel better, and children are able to remind us adults that there is fun to be had from simple laughter.
7. Opportunities to do the things they enjoy
It could be singing, football, outdoor play, climbing, baking, building Lego or computers. Children need the time and space to find time for their interests and hobbies. Knowing there is support for them to enjoy what relaxes them.
Thankfully N is a happy child, I’m sure family life would be very different if he wasn’t. He’d certainly not float through school, sports and other activities like he does without a care in the world. He does bring up worries sometimes – dreams about soldiers going off to war, concerns about plastic, or other people not being happy. But once he’s got them off his chest that’s it until the next time.
Happiness is more than these 7 things, but they’re a pretty good start.