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As a parent, you want an amazing life for your baby. You want your baby to grow up well-adjusted, high-achieving, compassionate and more. But, for most parents, their biggest hope for their baby is to see them happy. Once you become a parent, nothing is better than seeing your child happy, laughing and content with the world. Conversely, few things are as painful as seeing your child crying and unhappy, especially when you can’t help them feel better. In the end, happiness is what we want most for our children. But just how do you go about raising a happy child? In this article we share two things you can start doing right now.
Teach Your Child Emotional Literacy
Although the term emotional literacy may seem complex, it’s actually a simple concept. Emotional literacy is the ability to understand and express feelings and then manage those feelings. For example, if your child feels frustrated, they would notice the feeling, reassure themselves and manage to remain calm. Emotional literacy is a skill that will help your child immensely throughout their life. And it’s a skill you can begin teaching your child at a very young age. The Office of Head Start (the federal program that supports early learning, health, and family well-being) champions the building of emotional literacy in kids. According to this Head Start article, emotionally literate children enjoy many benefits over those who don’t build this critical skill.
Kids with a strong foundation in emotional literacy:
When your child is still a baby or a very young toddler, the foundation for emotional literacy is to simply accept your child’s emotions rather than minimizing them. When we deny a child’s emotion because we don’t like it, we teach them that some feelings are not acceptable or even shameful. This can cause a child to repress their angry or upset feelings which is a recipe for unhappiness. So, rather than denying a feeling, teach your child (from infancy) that they are allowed to have any and all emotions. Tell them that all feelings are normal and part of being human. This doesn’t mean that all actions are acceptable. They are allowed to feel whatever they feel, but they’re not allowed to hurt themselves or others. Be sure to make that important distinction.
According to an article from Edutopia, a trusted foundation transforming K-12 education, the next step to emotional literacy is to teach young children how to label their feelings - and not just the simple mad, sad, glad. They need to be able to recognize nuances in emotion and label feelings like surprised, worried, proud and afraid. How do you go about teaching very young children about feelings? Edutopia (and other) experts recommend using pictures of faces with emotions and ask your child what emotion they see; coaching them if needed. You can check out Wunder's very own Baby Flash Cards with faces. You could use any of your child’s picture books to start this process; asking them to label the feelings they see in the characters. Then, take it a step further - ask them how they know that’s the feeling. They should be able to point out facial features that indicate an emotion such as raised eyebrows or a downturn in the mouth. If they seem stuck, point out the ways in which the person is indicating a feeling. This practice starts the foundation of emotional literacy.
Be a Happy Person Yourself
In her book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, Christine Carter, pHd, reveals that your level of happiness dramatically affects how happy and successful your kids are. Dramatically! She reveals that extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. According to the author, parental depression appears to cause behavioral problems in kids while also making parenting less effective. If you’re feeling depressed (as many, MANY new parents do) it’s time to work on that. Ignoring your own sadness is not only bad for you, it’s also bad for your child. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible about how you’re feeling and start taking the necessary steps to feel happy again.
If you’re not feeling depressed, it’s time to find ways to get even happier. Take a moment to consider what makes you happy (this may feel weird when you’re a brand new parent consumed with infant duty!). What inspires you? What makes you laugh out loud? What is awesome in your life that you can feel more gratitude for? Now, go do more of these things! And not just one time...on a regular basis. Getting happier needs to be at the top of your To-Do-List from now on because the happiness of your whole family depends on it.
Raising a happy child begins now, and it begins with you. Increasing your own happiness and fostering emotional literacy in your little one are two surefire ways to get the happiness ball rolling.