Did you know that happiness is a skill you can teach your children?

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The Childhood Seeds of Adult Happiness
Christine Carter

Happiness is, in many ways, a skill that parents can teach their children. Kids develop habits of thinking, feeling, and behavior based in large part on what we teach them about the world, their relationships, and our expectations. These habits profoundly influence how happy they are. The good news is that there are lots of simple things we parents can teach our children that will lead to greater happiness.tools-icon-book.gif

I think of a happy childhood or a happy life as one that is full of what we call "prosocial" and other positive emotions. 50 years of happiness research shows us that people find happiness through their connections to other people, and prosocial emotions are those that help us make those connections—like love, altruism, compassion, and empathy. And then there are all of the other positive emotions that a happy life is full of. Positive emotions about the past, like gratitude and appreciation. Present-based positive emotions are a little more obvious—joy and contentment, for example. And future-based positive emotions are important, too, like optimism, faith, and confidence.

Loads of research points to teaching kids emotional literacy as the foundation of happiness. Emotional literacy is people's ability to read and understand emotions—to recognize, interpret, and respond constructively to their own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional literacy is one of the most important keys to mental health and well-being.

Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions like fear and anger for a shorter period of time. They have fewer infectious illnesses and are better at focusing their attention. Such children understand and relate to people better, and form stronger friendships. Emotional literacy is one of the best predictors of school performance and career success, better even than IQ. This is in part because children who are being taught emotional literacy skills are better learners; they also have better relationships in the classroom. Emotional literacy fosters resilience and helps close academic achievement gaps, promoting gains in nearly every area of children's lives—most notably happiness and school success.

That's what this blog is all about: how to foster habits and mindsets that will set the stage for positive emotions. There are a lot of things we can do as parents—simple, routine practices—to increase the odds that our children will be happy. And everything we talk about will be based on solid scientific research that draws on many fields: psychology, sociology, linguistics, education, anthropology, medicine—even organizational behavior.

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To your list of factors that make a child emotionally literate, I’d put the capacity to feel safe while the child experiences a wide range of feelings, so that the child isn’t alarmed by his or her own feelings, whatever they are, ie the capacity to tolerate feelings — anger, sadness, ennui so that the child doesn’t have to cautiously inhabit a narrow range of affect. Just thoughts.

Arlie Hochschild | 7:16 pm, October 21, 2007 | Link


I will also add that in addition to feelings of safty, children need to feel loved as another factor to make a child emotionally leterate.

Rosalia Wilkins | 5:30 pm, December 17, 2007 | Link


I would also say that children know they are loved when their parents set boundaries for them.  It is important for children to know that their parents care enough for them to be involved in protecting their children by setting boundaries for the child.

Valora | 8:13 pm, February 9, 2009 | Link


What are your thoughts on pre-natal and post-natal care, which I believe starts everything and also carries on into the following years.  From experience, I’ve seen the baggage that kids carry even at such a young age.  How do you turn things around for a 2 year old that is adopted and has a speech delay?

Nathalia | 5:57 am, March 4, 2010 | Link

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