Are You the Happy Parent?

Happy father with daughter

It turns out, what we bring to parenting impacts our happiness in parenting. That may not be a surprise result of psychological research, but grasping the idea can make a difference in your approach to your job as parent.

As my children are older, I’m honest with them about how difficult parenting can be. I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations, if they decide to be parents, but I also don’t want them to block all desire to be parents. It’s a hard job—and the hard job is worth it. My 14-year old son is less likely to just accept such talk now, so I decided to dig into the research to figure out if I could tell him how the ideas of “hard job” and “worth it” could go together.

The research turns out to be fascinating—and not at all simple.

I’ve been writing about paths toward happiness with our children over the past month: cultivating compassion, grateful kids, and teaching mindfulness for self control. All of that addresses helping our children to ground their own happiness, though. What about your happiness as a parent?

A study published earlier this year asked “when, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Studies that ask a simple question of “Are parents more or less happy than non-parents” contradict one another. This study (Nelson et al.) reviewed studies to ask the more nuanced question. Their review finds a complex relationship between parenting and happiness.

“We propose that parents are unhappy to the extent that they encounter relatively greater negative emotions, magnified financial problems, more sleep disturbance, and troubled marriages. By contrast, when parents experience greater meaning in life, satisfaction of their basic needs, greater positive emotions, and enhanced social roles, they are met with happiness and joy” (Nelson et al.).

What the parent brings to parenting can make the difference. The Berkeley Greater Good Science Center broke down the links to happiness, as outlined in the study, in age, gender, parenting style, and emotional bonds. Though there are still questions to be asked in more research, it is quite clear from long research that attachment leads to secure adults. If we are the parents are not secure in our attachments, though,

For us, that could mean that

“parents who do not feel secure in relationships seem to be more susceptible to declines in their relationship with their spouse during the transition to parenthood” (Nauman).

The review study (Nelson) looked at that transition to parenthood as a particularly important time. That is the phase many of our customers are going through as they meet us to talk about baby stuff, but we always understand that their underlying needs are much bigger than a cloth diaper or a pair of socks. We try to address the immediate needs as well as the deeper needs.

If you are interested in a review of the review, I suggest you read the full article at the Greater Good Science Center for an outline of factors in well-being and characteristics of those parents found to have greater well-being.

The conclusion may seem obvious that parents who know what they are getting into are more likely to find happiness in their parenting.

It’s important to know, as well, that

“happy parents often mean happy kids: Research has shown that happier parents engage in more positive parental behaviors and also influences positive outcomes in their children, like their child’s motivation, achievement, and relationships with peers.” (Nauman)

It’s worth finding your happiness in parenting. It does matter for the happiness of your children.

Resources

S. Katherine Nelson, Kostadin Kushlev, Sonja Lyubomirsky, “The pains and pleasures of parenting: When, why, and how is parenthood associated with more or less well-being?” Psychological Bulletin, Vol 140(3), May 2014, 846-895.

Emily Nauman, “What Makes a Happy Parent?” August 19, 2014.

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Teaching Children Mindfulness for Self Control

Mindfulness for Children

Have you wondered how to teach your child those inner skills that will make life a lot easier—skills like controlling one’s own responses to outside stimuli. Research shows that yoga and mindfulness for children helps them gain that self-awareness they need to control their own behavior.

Delayed Gratification Studies with Children

My father studied psychology in college. He didn’t live long enough to experiment on me, but I have heard funny stories from my older cousins about tests they remember.

My dad was on the young end of his family. He hung out often with his siblings and their families of young children. He was a favorite because he really talked to the kids. He interacted with them. He was genuinely curious how they worked.

One of my cousins told me a few years ago about the time that my dad gave him a candy bar when he visited. My cousin was about 8 years old at the time. There was no catch. He could eat the candy bar right then if he wanted. There was a potential bonus, though. If he could wait to eat it until my dad came back again, he would get two candy bars he could eat right then.

“Did you wait?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he said.

He said my dad taught him self control with that one test.

Could it really be that simple?

The test most commonly referred to when discussing delayed gratification in children is the Stanford Marshmallow Test, but that didn’t occur until the late 1960s and early 1970s. My dad was conducting his test about 1961, so it was probably based on tests published in the late 1950s, since he had died before the Standford tests. Just based on the detail of my cousin’s story and the similarity to the marshmallow and earlier tests, it sounds like there might have been a lot of poking around looking for the origins of self control.

The Stanford tests followed the children to learn that those who resisted the marshmallows had better academic achievement and fewer behaviors considered problematic to parents and schools.

How Can We Help Our Children?

Back to today and our gentle parenting of our own children, how can we teach them self control? If our children are those who eat the marshmallow right away, what can we do to help them?

That is the question asked in an article at the Greater Good Science Center: “What can we do to help the children who just can’t resist the marshmallows?” The answer was published last year in the Journal of Child and Family Studies: “Enhancing Preschoolers’ Self-regulation Via Mindful Yoga” (October 2013).

Teaching the children awareness in the moment resulted in less impulsive behavior and longer attention for classroom activities (compared to students who didn’t participate in the yoga and mindfulness program). Those who experienced the biggest change had started out with the weakest skills in self-regulation. There were no differences at home between the two groups, though.

We can see that self-awareness and consciousness in the moment can help a child to regulate behavior. It won’t work the same for every child, but it can help a child develop skills for dealing calmly with the difficulties they meet.

To help your child learn self control, cultivate self awareness, mindfulness. Talk about this self awareness to keep the practice in consciousness.

To put mindfulness into practice with your children, follow the “Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids” from the Great Good Science Center.

Loving-kindness Meditation for Compassionate Kids

Image © Alvera | Dreamstime.com - Little Child Relaxing On Beach Photo

How to Raise a Grateful Child

Child at Bedtime

We want our children to recognize and appreciate what others do for them, what they have. We want to raise grateful children.

Science shows us how.

Beyond the appreciation and recognition we give to others through our gratitude, research shows that gratitude is one of those active ingredients in happiness that we have within our control. Recognizing a feeling of gratitude within ourselves and choosing to express it to others is a specific action we take that grows happiness.

For children, especially for adolescents (and I write as the parent of two teenagers, so I’m really writing about my own children), there will be tough times ahead. Even those of us who had happy childhoods met challenges.

Research on gratitude for children suggests greater happiness, optimism, satisfaction, and engagement for pre-teens and teens who are grateful. The concept and the research aren’t so squishy as they might seem.

What I find exciting about research like this is the clear road. Intuitively, we probably realize that it’s better for us to be grateful than to be ungrateful. Quantify and analyze that gratitude, and we find that happiness and its associated effects are largely in our own hands. For children who might feel like life is out of their control, grasping their own power and responsibility is huge.

Habit of Gratitude for Children

As soon as you start talking to your children, from the first day, you can model gratitude. Tell your child what you are grateful for. Once your child can talk, ask what they are grateful for. Make gratitude and expression of gratitude to others a habit in your lives together.

Positive attracts positive. Positive creates the expectation of positive. Positive builds a pattern of looking for more positive. When we express gratitude and encourage our children to express gratitude, we set those patterns of positivity for our children.

One way to build a habit of gratitude for children is to ask at bedtime what your child’s three good things are. This idea is from Christine Carter’s video “Gratitude 365.”

In their book, Making Grateful Kids, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giancome Bono suggest 32 strategies to encourage gratitude based on seven essential themes.

  1. Model and teach gratitude
  2. Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them
  3. Support your child’s autonomy
  4. Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude
  5. Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals
  6. Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships
  7. Help kids find what matters to them

For more details on the seven essential themes, see “Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids” at the Greater Good Science Center or read the book, Making Grateful Kids.

Resources

Jeffrey J. Froh and Giancome Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, Templeton Foundation Press, 2014.

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Toys That Encourage Open-ended Play

Painting as Open Play for a Child

In open play, a child’s imagination guides use. Simple, open-ended toys can be much more than one thing to any kid. A child’s early education involves play, imitating adults’ actions around them and exploring their surroundings—including their toy box.

Single-purpose toys with pre-determined limitations and outcomes keep a child busy, but they do not engage the child in creating their own worlds.

Open-ended play means a child has freedom to create their own rules within the environment and transform all objects as their become part of experience. Toys in an open-ended environment are simple enough to have many uses—any use the child can imagine. Yes, blocks can be used to build or they can be food. Yes, play silks can be wings or they can be baby doll blankets. Yes, a doll can be a baby or a doll can be an audience.

Open play encourages abstract thinking and active creativity and problem solving. The characteristics a child brings to this world are given free reign. Children also learn as social and emotional skills are needed, meeting each challenge as it arises. They develop fluency in the ideas and materials of their world.

As parents, we—Nature Mom and I both—have made the way clear for our children to create their own play spaces by giving them simple, natural toys that can be transformed in play. To help you do the same as a parent, in the bynature.ca store, we make every effort to support open play with the children’s products we carry.

Dress up Toys

Silk reversible cape for a child

Silk cape

An overflowing dress-up box enables a child’s self transformation. Simple pieces can be worn many ways.

Building sets

Maple wood blocks toy

Colored maple wooden blocks

With blocks and building sets, you can choose cubes or shapes; stackers, magnetic blocks, or no connection at all; beautiful colors, story blocks, or just simple, beautiful wood without embellishment.

Dolls

Waldorf doll big friend

Waldorf Doll

The dolls a child needs as a baby, a squeezing bonding doll, differ from the dolls a child needs as they begin to imitate life. Choose dolls as well as the doll baby carriers and diapers that encourage your older child to take care of their baby doll.

Musical Instruments

Wooden musical instruments

Wooden musical instruments rhythm set

Music and rhythm instruments give a child the power to create a variety of sounds. Children are delighted when they discover this power.

Art Supplies

Glob natural paints for kids

Natural paints

Natural ingredients, particularly the colors, in the art supplies distinguish the bynature.ca collection.

More on Open-ended Play

Cultivating Compassionate Kids

Child sitting quietly

How can we help our kids be kind to others? Beyond telling them, “Be nice,” which seldom reaches past the surface, science shows us that there are specific practices in cultivating compassion that can change our brains and our actions. If we help our children learn these practices, we help them learn kindness and compassion on a deeper level.

I’ve been writing a bit lately on mindfulness and meditation as it can be applied by us, the adults, in simple ways in our busy lives. This comes from my own seeking. I’ve been calling it my Happiness Project for myself and my family.

As part of this project, I’ve recently been taking a course through edX (online MOOC, massive open online course) called The Science of Happiness, taught by two scientists from the UC Berkeley Great Good Science Center.

It’s easy enough to express a vague wish to be happier or to help my children be happier, but understanding the science of happiness helps motivate me to take clear steps forward. I know what works and why. No barrier left.

Over the next couple of months, I will share with you some of the work of the Greater Good Science Center on children, parenting, and marriage. I figure, if you find that cultivating this kind of peaceful focus is working well for you as a person, as a parent, as a partner, it makes sense to want to share this with your children.

Today, I want to share an article and short video from the Center suggesting that when you want to start meditating with children, an option is loving-kindness meditation (metta). This is a specific kind of meditation in which we repeat a few phrases that express our desire for safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and for others.

Read instructions for the meditation and watch the video here:
Christine Carter, “Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day: How to Teach Kids Loving-kindness Meditation,” Raising Happiness blog, Greater Good Science Center, 10 September 2012.

Research on loving-kindness meditation is interesting. A little bit (7 minutes) can increase your feeling of connectedness, and a lot (10,000+ hours practice for those studied) can change your brain.

One of the researchers into this neuroplasticity, Dr. Richard Davidson, has also been active in finding application of the research through mindfulness and meditation training to cultivate well-being. I keep meeting him through articles and videos, so I’m sure I’ll mention him to you again.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll come back with ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.

Resources

  • “The present study demonstrated significant effects of loving-kindness meditation on both explicit and implicit positivity toward neutral strangers. Even a brief (7-min) exercise in cultivating positive regard was sufficient to induce changes of small to moderate effect size.” Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” Emotion 8:5 (2008), 720-724. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

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