What Makes a Happy Child?

Techniques 6-10

6. Raise a nature kid.

In today's high-tech world, most of us don't take enough time to enjoy Mother Nature. Yet an appreciation of the natural world, with its dazzling array of everyday miracles, nourishes us in innumerable ways. Nature engages all of a child's senses, encourages reflection and acute observation, and helps stimulate the recognition of a just and purposeful existence, says Colleen Cordes, a founder of the Alliance for Childhood based in Takoma Park, Maryland. In other words, the inherent order we see in nature gives rise to a similar feeling in us. The certainty that each year the snow will melt and make way for crocuses, and that the green leaves of summer will deepen into orange and brown, provides a vital antidote to the frenetic, high-tech world most of us inhabit.

7. Bring home a four-legged friend.

Deciding whether to get a pet can be tough for parents: The commitment of time and energy is huge and (your child's assurances to the contrary) most of the pet care will end up being your responsibility. Still, there's convincing evidence that taking it on is worth the effort. According to Gail F. Melson, author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children (Harvard University Press), pets often provide reassurance when kids are worried and afraid. And kids absorb crucial lessons about empathy, loyalty, and attachment from the animals they love. Through nurturing pets and investing emotionally in them, children learn to care for and look after others, says Melson. In addition, pets make children feel valued and competent. Remember that a pet doesn't have to be a dog or a cat; guinea pigs, rabbits, and even small reptiles make lovely and relatively low-maintenance pets. If a pet is out of the question, your child can still get exposure to animals through visits to a zoo or nature center.

8. Make your house a home.

The advice to sharpen your housekeeping skills may seem trivial, but maintaining a pleasant domestic environment for your children is more important than you might think. If your house is disorganized or messy, kids are less likely to want to have friends over. Keeping things neat and in place give kids a feeling of peace and contentment. However, you don't want to turn into a compulsive neat-freak. Comfort is a big part of happiness, and kids need to feel free to run, jump, get dirty, and be occasional slobs in their own homes -- by themselves and with their playmates.

9. Serve happy meals.

As adults, most of us are aware that eating healthily, under pleasant, unhurried conditions, makes us feel better in both body and spirit. Children, though, rarely have that much insight into themselves. That's why it's up to parents to make mealtime a positive experience from an early age. That means turning off the TV, sitting down together as a family, and eating nutritious foods. The difference in kids' dispositions (not to mention their health) can be dramatic. In February 2003, ABC's Good Morning America reported on a secondary school in Appleton, Wisconsin, that saw its discipline problems plummet after it overhauled its lunchtime routine. Round tables replaced the standard rectangular ones in the cafeteria to create a more relaxed, convivial atmosphere, and the menu began featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, and additive-free entrees instead of the standard pizza, soda, fries, and vending-machine junk. To the amazement of the school's principal, discipline and behavioral problems decreased dramatically after the new program was introduced. Just imagine how your kids will benefit if you do this same thing at home.

10. Get physical.

This advice cuts two ways. First, show your children lots of physical affection: hugs, kisses, back rubs, tummy tickles. Apart from demonstrating that you're crazy about them, touch has the power to relieve stress and elevate mood. Second, you get your kids moving. Whether it's because strenuous activity releases feel-good brain chemicals such as endorphins (as one of the most popular theories maintains) or simply because meeting a physical challenge confers a positive feeling of achievement, a mountain of research has established a link between regular exercise and psychological well-being. In addition, children who are physically fit have a more positive body image than those who are sedentary. Finally, it's just plain fun for kids to run, jump, swim, ride bikes, and play ball -- ideally, with you joining in. After all, isn't having fun the most basic definition of happiness?

Copyright © 2003 AmericanBaby.com.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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