Raising Happiness


Why I Yell at My Kids

April 29, 2014 | The Main Dish, Book Reviews | 0 comments

Do you sometimes yell at your kids, just like Christine Carter? A new book can help.

It was an afternoon like any other. I had picked my kids up from their after-school activities, and we were driving to dinner at my sister-in-law’s house. Because I’d left work an hour early, I still had some calls to make.

I figured I’d make the calls in the car while driving to dinner—the upside of rush hour traffic was that there’d be plenty of time. Since I mostly write from home in a room off our kitchen, I’m well-practiced at working while keeping an ear out for my kids—or, in this case, an eye on the road.

I put an audio book on for the kids and used voice recognition to dial my first call, which went to voicemail. As I was leaving a long message, my kids started talking to me at the same time, asking me to turn up the volume on the audiobook. I find it hugely irritating when my teen and pre-teen kids can hear that I’m talking to someone else but start talking to me anyway.

“Can’t you hear that I was leaving a message??!!” I yelled at them after I thought I hung up the phone. “Can YOU hear and respond to someone who is talking to you while YOU are talking to someone else!!?”


And then, in my headset, I heard a long beep, and a lady-computer told me that I’d reached the end of the length of the message. Holy crow: I’d been yelling at my kids right into my colleague’s voicemail. Talk about sounding unprofessional!

My kids don’t usually cower (or suddenly obey) when I yell. When I get angry or snappish with them, they say things like “Mom, could you please use a kind voice?” or even “I have a hard time understanding you when you talk to me like that.” Both of these phrases they’ve stolen directly from me; it’s what I say to them when they are demanding or disrespectful or whiney.

But I don’t have a history of changing my own tone in response to their polite/sassy requests. Instead, I’ve justified yelling at my kids. It’s different than when they talk to me in a way that I don’t like. Because I’m the parent. Moms and dads yell when kids make us mad. Kids need to not do the things that make us yell, and then we won’t yell anymore. Ergo, if I’m yelling, clearly it is the kids’ fault, and therefore their responsibility to change.

Except that I always knew, on some level, that this is faulty logic. The embarrassment of yelling at my kids in front of a work colleague provided the jolt of insight I needed to see that my yelling couldn’t be justified.

Moreover, yelling at my kids wasn’t actually changing their behavior. Although we all know that yelling occasionally works in the short-run, generally speaking, it is not an effective teaching tool. As a parenting expert, I’m very well-versed in much more effective ways to shape kids’ behavior and habits.

Enter Rona Renner, a dear friend and long-time colleague—you may know her from the “Happiness Matters” podcasts we did together. Rona is a master parent coach, with a specialty in understanding temperament and, you guessed it, helping parents who lose their temper. And she has a fantastic new book out!

Is That Me Yelling? provided me with the framework that I needed to discover why I was really yelling at my kids, and it gave me the tools for responding differently in the future. I discovered, by using Renner’s “Yelling Tracker,” that I typically only raise my voice with my kids when I’m multi-tasking or stressed out—when I’m really focused on something besides them. Working from home or from the car means that I’m often trying to do two or even three things at once, and this dramatically shortens my fuse.

I worked out a plan to work less in the presence of my kids—and to give them my full attention when I’m with them. They still do things that make me angry; the difference is that I am much more able and likely to respond skillfully to their missteps when I’m not trying to do something else at the same time.

Is That Me Yelling? makes an important contribution to the betterment of humanity. That’s not an overstatement: When we are compassionate and peaceful with our children, they, in turn, become compassionate and peaceful in the world. And in a world filled with strife and irritants, this is just what we need!


Like this post?

Here's what you can do:


Buy the Book!

Learn more about the science of raising happy kids in Christine Carter's popular book.


Raising Happiness


Is Your Marriage Losing its Luster?

January 28, 2014 | The Main Dish | 0 comments

Three easy ways to make it feel like new love

One of the greatest things about our long-term romantic relationships is that they can provide comfort and predictability in this wild world we live in.

But let’s face it: Long-term relationships can get a little boring. Within nine to eighteen months, research suggests, 87 percent of couples lose that knee-quaking excitement they felt when they first fell madly in love. It isn’t that these relationships are bad, necessarily; they are just stale. Still edible, but not nearly as delectable as they were fresh out of the oven.

It isn’t just in our romantic relationships: In most aspects of our lives, we get used to the surroundings and circumstances that stay the same; researchers call this “hedonic adaptation.” What was once new and exciting—be it a lover, a new pair of shoes, a new neighborhood, or a new job—nearly always loses its luster over time.

The key word there, though, is nearly: 13 to 20 percent of people in long-term marriages successfully keep the fires of passion alive. (This doesn’t mean that 80 percent of couples are unhappy, it just means that their relationships aren’t particularly sexy or passionate.) And although we adapt to most things in life, we tend not to adapt to circumstances and situations that involve “variable, dynamic, and effortful engagement”—as when we take an engaging hike or class or while we are learning a new sport, according to researcher Ken Sheldon, who studies hedonic adaptation.

All this means that the very predictability that makes our long-term relationships comforting can also make us feel bored and uninterested in our spouses—which, of course, causes disconnection and even conflict. The destructive way to deal with relationship boredom is to seek excitement and novelty outside of the relationship—we all know people who’ve done that. Fortunately, there are better solutions to this common problem.

The antidote: Shake things up. Maybe a lot.

The good news is that its fun to stoke the fires of your relationship. The bad news is that you’ll have to give up some of the comfort (or if not that, the complacency) that has settled into your relationship. Here’s how:

Make yourself vulnerable (just like you probably were on that first date!). Vulnerability can be uncomfortable because it involves, by definition, emotional exposure, uncertainty, and risk. (Remember: Vulnerability is not weakness!) Vulnerability allows trust and intimacy to develop and deepen.

A simple (if not always easy) way to make ourselves vulnerable in our relationships is to bare ourselves emotionally. What can you reveal to your long-term love that he or she doesn’t already know about you? Ask your beloved intimate questions to which you aren’t sure you know the answer (I carry a little rubber-banded pile of Table Topics for Couples in my purse for just this purpose).

Or do something mildly risky. Go on an adventure for your next vacation, to an unknown place that feels a little daunting. Visit a karaoke bar for your next date night, and actually sing. Try a new sport (where you risk feeling silly or uncoordinated). Do something thrilling, like zip-lining or bungee-jumping.

Vulnerability works in part because it creates a similar biochemistry and physiology as when you and your beloved were first falling in love. Researchers think it is likely that we tend to conflate the high-arousal induced by doing something risky with the high-arousal of intense attraction—the two states feel similar. Either way, an adrenaline rush is good for a relationship that is losing its luster.

Upgrade your routines. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I’m a HUGE fan of productive routines and positive habits, and I advocate them in relationships as well, with one caveat: Your relationship habits routinely need to introduce variety, or you’ll start feeling entitled and bored. Making variety a habit—think that’s an oxymoron?

It isn’t. You may have a gratitude ritual at bedtime, where you tell your love something you appreciate about them before sleep; challenge yourself to come up with something new every day. Or perhaps you have a weekly date night—it might be cozy and comfortable to always go to the same Italian restaurant on the corner, but you’re gonna need to shake it up a little bit. Keep the date night, but always do something different. Vary the restaurant, vary the activity. Pretend you are trying to impress a new date.

Even if you aren’t up for the risk of an adventure or the intensity of emotional exposure, make sure there is a little excitement in your relationship routines. When researchers have couples create lists of things that they find exciting to do (maybe skiing, or trying a new restaurant, or going to a part of the city they rarely visit) couples who did something exciting together were more likely to agree with statements like “I feel happy when I am doing something to make my partner happy” and “I feel ‘tingling’ and ‘an increased heartbeat’ when I think of my partner.”

Surprise your significant other (and maybe yourself at the same time). This is no more complicated than making an effort not to be so predictable. Throw them off their game a bit by blindfolding them on the way to your date-night. Similarly, a good friend and her husband trade off date-night planning, and don’t tell the other anything about the date. They might not end up doing anything outlandish, but the element of surprise makes the situation novel and exciting. Research shows that when ambiguity is introduced into something positive, the uncertainty in and of itself tends to increase our pleasure.

While you’re at it, look for unintended surprises in your significant other. You might be doing something you’ve done with her 1,001 times, but challenge yourself to find something new about the way that she is doing it. Our brains are pattern-finders, and they often see only what they expect to see. We find new people and situations more interesting and exciting because we don’t know yet what patterns we’ll find in their behavior (researchers call this the “lure of ambiguity”). When we find something new about a familiar person, we’ll tend to find him or her more interesting.

In romantic relationships, all of these strategies can (and should) be tried in the bedroom, of course. Lovemaking is one of the most significant ways most couples stay connected, but like the relationship itself, it can get stale over time. Shake things up in your sex life by making yourself vulnerable, taking risks, changing up your routines, and adding elements of surprise.

Finally, do these things as a way to deepen your connection and closeness in your relationship rather than to avoid conflict or rejection. When our relationship goals are positive (e.g., we want to have fun) rather than negative (e.g., we’re trying to avoid a fight), we tend to be much more satisfied with our relationships and to feel less lonely and insecure. And there’s nothing boring about that.

What do you do to add spark back into your relationship?

Interested in learning more about the science behind hedonic adaptation in relationships? I highly recommend Sonja Lubermirsky’s book The Myths of Happiness. There’s a whole chapter on taking your relationship from so-so to exciting!


Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.

Follow Christine Carter on Twitter

Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes.

Sign up for the Raising Happiness CLASS!


Like this post?

Here's what you can do:


Buy the Book!

Learn more about the science of raising happy kids in Christine Carter's popular book.


Raising Happiness


Tablet and Smartphone Boot Camp for Middle School Parents

November 26, 2013 | The Main Dish | 0 comments

‘Tis the season for electronic gifts. But these days, parents need to provide their kids with much more than batteries for all their devices.

Everyday I read something that leads me to believe that tech devices are dramatically affecting our kids’ normal social, sexual, intellectual, and emotional development. What I’m most amazed by, frankly, is how uninvolved we parents tend to be in the online lives of our middle schoolers. Our tweeners tend to seem much more savvy than they actually are: They may have technical skills, but usually they don’t have the social skills they need to navigate the sophisticated online and social media world.

Smartphones, tablets, and computers are powerful, wonderful devices that I can hardly imagine living without. But our kids get addicted to them easily, and they often use them inappropriately.

Middle schoolers are not old enough (or developmentally ready) to have as much freedom online as they often do these days. Think of these devices like cars: Before kids can drive them alone, they need to know the rules. They need clear roads with bright lines painted for them to show them where—and where not—to go.

In order for parents to teach these rules to our kids, many of us need a crash course in them ourselves—consider it a new technologies boot camp. If your middle schooler seems to be spending more time on Facebook or texting than she is in-person with her friends, this boot camp is for you.

Step 1: Make it clear which SPACES are appropriate for device and computer use.

Just because we can take a laptop into the bathroom does not mean that this is an appropriate thing to do. These are the places where it is typically NOT OKAY to use a computer, tablet, or smartphone:

● The car, unless it is planned for a long road trip. If your kids are used to being on their devices while you shuttle them around town, re-introduce them to the car window. Encourage them to learn the names of the streets you are driving on. Talk to them. If they complain about being bored, remind them that boredom is not a health hazard, but technology overuse is.

● Bedrooms and bathrooms. If you think your middle schooler is mature enough to have a computer in his or her bedroom, read Catherine Steriner-Adair’s book The Big Disconnect. Believe me, it can forever change their development. Laptops, phones, and tablets get charged in the kitchen at our house.* (I do let my daughter take a smartphone into her room after school and before dinnertime, where she uses it to talk and text. She is not allowed to use it for Internet access in her bedroom. This means that kids do homework in our house in public spaces, not in their bedrooms.)

● Public spaces where others can overhear a conversation, like restaurants, school, or any place where someone is helping you, like in a check-out line at a store. Remind kids that when we are texting or talking on the phone, we are ignoring the people around us, which is especially rude when they are helping us with something.

Step 2: Identify appropriate TIMES to be on a device.

For example, here are some times when it is NOT appropriate in our household to be texting, snapchatting, Facebooking,** playing an electronic game, emailing, etc:

● While they are doing homework. I am aware that most middle-schoolers chat while doing homework and are better at multitasking than us middle-agers. But the ability to FOCUS (you know, do just one thing at a time) is a core life-skill that more and more of our kids are failing to develop.

● During meals. There is usually nothing so important that it can’t wait 20 minutes. Daily family meals actually ARE important to kids’ development, and need to be accorded that importance.

● During bedtime routines. In the evening all devices can be set to their “do not disturb” setting and put in their chargers (iPhones and iPads can be set to do this automatically) a half hour before bedtime.

Why 30 minutes? Because the low-energy blue light emitted by our tablets and smartphones stimulates chemical messengers in our brains that make us more alert, and suppresses others (like melatonin) that help us fall asleep. Changing electronic reader settings to have a black background may help if your kids like to read before bed on a tablet or electronic reader.

Step 3: Make it clear what is private, and what is not.

Here is the biggest ever newsflash for most seventh and eighth graders: They are not entitled to privacy in their texts, emails, Facebook or Instagram posts, etc. The computers, phones, and tablets they use are, in fact, owned by their school or their parents.

As such, schools and parents are accountable for everything that happens on them. This means parents have a responsibility to control all of the passwords on the devices they own, and they have the right to read all posts created or received on said devices.

Why? Two reasons. First, because everything that kids do online is much more public and permanent than they typically think. If they want to write a private love note, they should use a pen and the US Mail. If they want to have a private conversation, they should do it in person. Make it clear what is private (their journal, for example, or their bedroom) and what is not: all online communications.

The second reason that middle-schoolers are not entitled to privacy online is that kids usually behave differently—and by that I mean better—when they know that they are being watched by adults. They are emboldened by independence, and once they do something risky or against the rules online and get away with it, they are likely to do it again.

So collect your middle-schooler’s passwords, and USE THEM. Log in and read their posts and texts. (See Step 4 if you see something you don’t like.) Insist that they accept any and all requests to connect via social media with relatives and trusted adults: This can be a part of the village that helps keep an eye on your kids.

Step 4: Teach kids to seek help when things go awry—and have a plan yourself as a parent when they do.

Inevitably, our kids will be spammed, flamed, and even bullied online or via email. And they may make major mistakes themselves that have deep consequences. First, be clear about what you see as bad online behavior, and establish clear consequences should that bad behavior come from your child.

Second, teach them that their how they respond when something goes wrong usually matters a lot, so their first response should be to get help from you or their school. Establish an “amnesty” policy with them so that should they realize they (or one of their close friends) has made a mistake, they feel they can seek adult help repairing any damage.

If you aren’t sure how you’ll respond when things go wrong, or what situations middle-schoolers typically deal with online that you might need to help them with, take the time to read the last couple of chapters of Steiner-Adair’s The Big Disconnect

Step 5: Actively teach kids to use their devices and social media accounts as a force for good.

On balance these technologies are good. They represent progress, not the death and destruction of our youth. But kids need to be taught how to use these sophisticated tools to make them happier, and to make the world a better place. (For ideas about how to do that, see this post about How to use Facebook to Increase Your Happiness.)

Perhaps this goes without saying, but kids will do what we do, not what we tell them to do, so the most important part of this boot camp is probably modeling these behaviors. When we text our work colleagues during dinner, we teach our family that work is more important than them. When we check Facebook during a red light in the car, we teach our kids that boredom is intolerable, and that it is safe to be online while driving.

But here’s the thing: We can also model positive behavior. We can turn our devices off, and keep them off at significant moments in our day. When we are online, we can post inspiring quotations and send our friends gratitude emails. We can text pictures of the kids to grandparents. And these technologies can make us more efficient (rather than just more distracted), and that efficiency can buy us more time with our middle-schoolers—who are readying themselves to leave our nest at any moment.


*A tangent that will make me seem like a luddite, but I can’t help throwing in: My kids use old-fashioned alarm clocks to wake up in the morning. One of them uses the “clock-radio” that I got for Christmas one year when I was in grade school. This in and of itself is amazing: My kids can’t believe something electronic was ever designed to last more than a couple of years and is still operable 30 years later.

**Note: My kids are not allowed to have Facebook accounts until it is legal for them to do so, at age 13. They have tons of friends and are somehow surviving socially being the “only kids in their entire school” who don’t have Facebook accounts. (Perhaps because many of their friends actually don’t have active Facebook accounts.)


Become a fan of Raising Happiness on Facebook.

Follow Christine Carter on Twitter

Subscribe to the Happiness Matters Podcast on iTunes.

Sign up for the Raising Happiness CLASS!


Page 1 of 184 pages  1 2 3 >  Last ›

Short Parenting Videos


Why Gratitude Works

Why Gratitude Works


Christine Carter explains why gratitude—an emotion that can seem hokey—actually provides a significant boost to our happiness and life satisfaction.


Subscribe to this Blog

Every time a new Raising Happiness post is published, get it as an email or via RSS feed.




Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.

Greater Good Articles




Greater Good Live


The Evolutionary Roots of Compassion

The Evolutionary Roots of Compassion

Dacher Keltner explains why Darwin thought compassion is humans’ strongest instinct.


The Greater Good Guide to Mindfulness

The Greater Good Guide to Mindfulness

This invaluable resource, a special benefit for GGSC members, offers insight into what mindfulness is, why it’s important, and how to teach it.

Get the Guide

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017
The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.

» All Events

thnx advertisement