I Just Want My Children to Be Happy

I Just Want My Children To Be Happy

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say,  and what you do are in harmony.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

We all want our children to be happy.  We don’t like it when they cry or feel disappointed.  Some of us are uncomfortable if our child is angry with us when we try to set limits and we give in so they will be happy.  Many parents do not know what to do when they want to or need to say “No,” but they know that their child will cry, melt down or lash out.  And many are compelled by this overwhelming desire that their children are happy—all of the time.

The problem is that happiness really only comes through a process of hard work, from learning something and changing ourselves, from losing something and then recognizing how blessed we are with what we have, from facing disappointment and realizing that we will be fine, and from giving of ourselves to help others do better.  In truth, happiness in the long run almost always requires a lot of unhappiness and sacrifice along the way.

“It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to remember sweetness.

We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” 

Chuck PalahniukDiary

When we parent, the struggle is real.  We want to be happy, and we have a mistaken sense that if our child is not happy, we cannot be happy either.  For some parents it is hard to say, “No.”  It feels bad to say, “That doll is beautiful.  I love the color of her dress, and you can save your money and buy her if you like, (but we are not buying her today.)”  It is difficult to stand firm when the time is up rather than saying “Okay.  How about another 10 minutes?”  We don’t like to say, “Stop that right now.  It is not respectful.”  And we weary of constantly reminding our children to say, “please,” and, “thank you.”

But take a look around at well-behaved children and those are the things you will hear their parents saying without regret and with confidence and kindness.  These parents respectfully set limits, often inviting their children to be unhappy temporarily, and the payoff is happiness, confidence, competence, the ability to delay gratification and a life of gratitude and purpose.  These parents are kind and firm at the same time. Sometimes the parents are more firm than kind and other times more kind than firm, but they have no problem setting limits with love.  The security this provides to their children is the essence of all later attributes.

The Queen Grants You Permission!

I am the queen and I am hereby giving all parents permission to set firm and kind limits with their children.  You are granted the queen’s admonition to say, “No,” and mean it, and to tickle their stomachs as you laughingly carry them to the bathtub upside down when they want to continue playing Legos.  I grant you the royal power to stand your ground, say it once, lovingly take them by the hand and lead them to the thing you asked them to do, and then hug them and say, “I love you and I know you can tackle this!”  

You have my decree that when it is time to leave the park, you may call them to you and as you gather your things and walk toward the car you may remain silent and not respond at all to their requests to wait, stay longer, to look at them or any other thing that will distract you from leaving (within reason☺). 

It is OKAY if they cry!

Disappointment and frustration in young childhood are the experiences they need to master and learn to cope with in order to become happy adults!  Muscles develop when we use them.  Allow your children to experience a variety of emotions fully and then learn that they can recover from their very powerful feelings.  The situations that will elicit these emotions are inherent in early childhood.  You need not go out of your way to create them!

As in Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, Max is completely out of control after being sent to his bedroom, but he is allowed to fully experience his frustration, anger and grief and then he is able to regain control and regulate his emotions.  He begins to recognize that he has the power to feel better again and that he prefers the safety and love found in “…his very own room.”  When we prevent children from this level of distress we do not prepare them for their future interactions with the world in which they will live.  We are not preparing them for lives of happiness.  They will be horrific, ungrateful, entitled and poorly mannered adolescents and terrified, tyrannical, confused adults who think they should get everything they want and they will blame others and throw tantrums when they don’t get it.  They will certainly not be happy and neither will the people around them.

Trying to prevent and settle tantrums by making children happy in early childhood only delays the tantrums until children are older and much more obnoxious and the struggles are much more problematic.

Here are parent behaviors to avoid to help our children grow those disappointment muscles when they are young.

1.    Avoid negotiating with them.  Once you have stated the limit or expectation, it is not time to negotiate.  If you are going to negotiate, do it before you set the limit or state the behavior you want.  For example:  “It is time for your bath.”  Your child responds, “Oh, I don’t want to stop.  I’m building a castle. How about 5 more minutes?”  If you negotiate now, you are teaching them that you don’t mean what you say.  Your response can simply be, “That is a great castle!  You will have time to play with it tomorrow,” as you pick her up or take her by the hand to the bathtub.  No negotiating now!  Negotiate another time before you state a limit or request.

2.       Never say the same thing more than twice!   No one likes to be nagged and no one listens to a nag.  Do NOT keep telling them again and again expecting them to respond appropriately or differently.  Young children simply do not have the emotional self-regulation to stop doing something they enjoy to do what you say.  This is a learning process and you are the teacher!  You, on the other hand, must stop what YOU are doing and respectfully guide, encourage and support your child in following through with the request.  Never say the same thing more than twice! If you do, you are training your child to ignore you.  When you do this in early childhood, instead of following through quickly, you actually train them to ignore you and then by the time they are in school, it has become a habit for both of you.

3.     Do not try to convince a child to agree with you!  Your children do not need to agree with you or be happy about what you have asked, or what you are doing next.  This isn’t permission for you to be disrespectful or angry or hurtful to them, but it is your cue to stop talking and act quickly and kindly.  It is fine for your child to disagree, have their own opinion, not want to do what you say and express that to you, but it is your job to simply love them and follow through firmly.  You are an adult and your should be teaching them how to become an adult, with all of the respect, emotional regulation and maturity that requires.  Immature expressions of disagreement may feel disrespectful, but you can teach your children to disagree respectfully by decoding and reflecting what they say in respectful terms.  Of course, if you perceive any disagreement as disrespect, that is another matter and I recommend further exploration of yourself and your triggers.  Teaching your child how to become respectful occurs best when you are respectful in the teaching process.

Immature expression or opinion:  “Yuck, I don’t like that!”

Mature expression or opinion: “No thank you.  I don’t care for any.”

Never try to tell them again, count to 3 (or any number) or threaten.  Just smile and say, “You want to stay here and not go to the store. (validate) But we are leaving now, so I’ll help you get your shoes on and you can go get in the car.”  (set limit) Remember, it is OK if they disagree with you or if they cry about it, if they are frustrated, mad, disappointed or any other feeling. Let them have their feelings and learn to manage them while you teach them right from wrong in respectful ways.  Imagine what it would be like if all of the adults we know could recognize and manage their feelings and act respectfully and cooperatively anyway!

4. Do NOT tell them to stop crying, threaten them for crying, or give them something to make them stop crying!  Let them cry  so they can learn that crying doesn’t change your mind or your follow through.   Let them know that it is acceptable to have feelings, even strong ones and name feelings for them so they can learn to talk instead of cry and scream.   They may be sad, mad, upset, disappointed etc.  It is important for them to learn about feelings and to cry about it! (Note: If your child’s crying invites powerful emotions in you that cause anxiety, reactivity or unhealthy reactions, seek understanding of yourself, your childhood and your pain.)

5. Do NOT offer them a concession, a bribe, a reward or threaten to punish them.  It is important that your children, at a very young age, learn that you mean what you say and that in your family cooperation is important and that you love them.  This is the root of the later moral development of obedience, which emerges around the age of eight.  Your emotional regulation, your “kind and firm at the same time” respectful actions and your modeling for them that love is the best motivator is how you will invite cooperation, which later becomes obedience and cooperative collaboration.

The most important thing that children learn when we do these things is that our child’s very strong feelings do NOT cause us to react to them with very strong feelings or actions and that we love them anyway, no matter how they feel or act.  They will learn from us that when people around them are very upset, they can remain calm, regulated and respectful. They will learn that even when others say potentially hurtful things, they can decode the situation and the words and understand what is really going on.

Relationships Lead Behavior

It is our relationship, our attitudes, our words and our actions with our children that teach them how to interact in the world.  We teach them to be respectful and trusting when we behave in respectful and trusting ways.  

The development of moral values begins in our families.  As we help our children learn that they do not and cannot have everything they want, they learn to manage their desires.  As we teach them to how to behave, how to accept and manage their feelings, how to recover from mistakes and disappointment, we are helping them mature and grow into the kind of people the world needs.  

As we interact with them in loving ways that also teach them to work for what they need and want, to be grateful for what they have and to treat others with dignity and respect, they can develop the values we treasure and determine what they treasure.  Obedience, aligning our actions with our values and acting out of love for those who set the rules, is an important element of happiness and integrity. It is not compliance without thought or reflection.  It flows out of and into goodness, honesty, humility, love, charity and sacrifice.  It is these attributes that result in happy children and happy parents, and it is the biggest job in the world. If we want our children to really be happy, we must deal with their unhappiness now.  

Happiness comes from giving up what we want now, for what we want most.  

It Only Gets Worse!


My neighbor Ann stopped by the other day.  She had taught four of my kids in elementary school and then she was one of my college instructors when I started school.  She said she had a folder of things that I had written about parenthood and child rearing and had shared with her 20 years ago!  A few days later, she rang the doorbell and handed me the folder.

These are little stories of survival I had written while I was in the throws of parenthood.  When resources were scarce, time was the most valuable thing in the world, and everyone was working hard at learning how to live, learn, love and have fun.

I remember sometimes just being overwhelmed and wanting to quit, but I couldn’t quit.  I had to get up everyday, be pretty cheerful, and try my best to meet people’s needs and love them.  I know that I fell short.  I knew it then and I know it now, but nonetheless, I always did the best I could with what I knew and what I had to work with.

In order to survive, from time to time, instead of hurting someone, I would go to the Kaypro computer my brother in law had given me and I would write stories that expressed my experiences.  It was a way to vent and then I usually felt better or whatever led me to my wits end was no longer a crisis.

There is a little truth and a little fiction in all of the stories, but I think they accurately reflect the experiences of most parents at sometime.

Here is the my first post.

Mysterious Disappearances—The Hose Zone

I know I can’t be the only one.  Statistically, if it happens to me it must also be happening to someone else!  So, you won’t mind if I confess that things disappear at our house.  The three most popular disappearing items are; socks, scissors, and working flashlights.

On any given laundry day, all of the clean socks are set aside until the washing is finished for that day.  Then we sort.  I call it “Family Fold,” the boys just grumble.

 Without exception, there are several, sometimes dozens of leftover, or unmatched socks.  For years I worried and pondered where the mates for these lonely singles might be.  Beds have been bared and searched and washing machines pulled from the wall.  I have re-checked the inside of the dryer and looked in the lint trap, but never to any avail.  Then one summer, while my older and wiser sister was visiting, she solved the mystery for me.  She said resolutely, because that is how she says everything—with great knowledge and authority—“The socks are in the Hose Zone.”  Appropriate musical score should come to mind at this point.

The “Hose Zone” is another dimension somewhere between a child’s feet and the folding and sorting table.  It has never been fully explored, but we know it exists because of documented disappearances like I experience.  The “Zone” is non-selective in its choice of socks.  It will take stripes from one load, and solid colored socks from the next.  One thing is for sure, once a sock enters the “Hose Zone,” it will never be seen again!  If per chance a missing sock is found at some later date, you can be sure that it was only lost, and NOT in the “Hose Zone.”

We have tried several approaches to solve the problems caused by large amounts of mismatched socks.  We have tried the “lump them all in a mismatch basket” approach. This simply means that all of the mismatched socks are thrown into a specified basket, box, or closet.  Each person is then responsible for getting whatever he needs to cover his feet.  Wrong-side-out, different lengths, odd colors—it doesn’t matter you just cover your feet.

Another possible solution was to try to match all we could and then keep a running supply of mismatchers to replenish pairs.  When one of a good, matched pair got a hole in the heel or showed signs of great wear, we could draw from our vast supply of odd socks to replace a discard.  This worked fairly well, but I always had this mess of odd socks hanging around.

 The third idea was to have a puppet day.  We got out all of the mismatched socks and grandma’s button can, yarn scraps, glue, and felt pieces and set out to make sock puppets.  I thought it would be a fun activity.  Unfortunately, we could not find any scissors.  Which brings me to the second item that always disappears in my house.

 Mysterious Disappearances Part Two –I Need My Scissors 

Trying to make sock puppets was a great idea.  We loved doing relatively creative things that seemed marginally silly, and we especially excelled at doing things that made messes.  As we gathered all of the materials, we needed scissors.  Since my second child was born, I have never been able to find the scissors I needed when or where I needed them and nothing I have tried has worked.  We looked in all the same places we looked for missing socks, except under the washing machine, but could not find any. 

All of my attempts to keep my scissors, have multiple pairs of scissors, or have scissors that cut have been futile.  Designating special places to hang them, assigning special drawers to hold them and every other effort has been unsuccessful.  I have bought extra pairs and put some of them with the art stuff, some with the sewing supplies and some in the kitchen utility (junk) drawer.  No matter what I tried I never had scissors when I needed them.  Once or twice a year, after thorough investigation and search parties, often motivated by bribery, I have retrieved one or two pair.  I offered rewards as high as $5.00 for my good scissors to be returned.  Usually, I just ended up buying a new pair so I could put a button back on a shirt.

Once however, I hit pay dirt, literally.  While working in the back yard, I unearthed my beaters for the kitchen hand mixer, my roll of aluminum foil, and two pair of scissors.  My boys had built a fort and a stage and then performed rock and roll Band Stand.  They had borrowed my foil to cover the beaters to use as microphones, of course.  The scissors, unfortunately, had been used to cut the you know what, aluminum foil. 

I bought some new scissors for myself, hid them, and presented the kids with their own rusted, dull bladed foil cutters.  You might imagine that they kept track of their scissors and never touched my new expensive sewing scissors.  Bu I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

 Mysterious Disappearances Part Three—Let There Be Light!

 Nothing is more puzzling to me, though, than how we can own eight, count them e-i-g-h-t flashlights and never be able to find one that works!  We keep two in the kitchen cupboard, one in the camping box, one big one in the garage utility closet, and others in the bedrooms. It seems like I buy batteries almost weekly.  The flashlights, of course are always put back where they come from (silent snicker heard here).  Unlike the scissors, I can often find a flashlight; I just can find one that works! 

One evening when I needed a flashlight, I knew right where to look.  I went to the kitchen cupboard and grabbed the one most recently filled with new batteries.  It felt kind of light to me, so I shook it.  No batteries!  I briefly wondered where they might be, but the possibilities were limitless.  So, without hesitation, I just picked up the second flashlight.  The batteries were not new, but as far as I knew, they still worked.  Wrong.  No light.  Not to worry, I thought, there are always extra batteries on hand.  I reached further back into the cupboard, which is always risky, and pulled out a package of new EverReadys and started to take them out of the package.  I quickly discovered that I was holding “C” cell batteries and the flashlights to be filled needed “D” cells. 

Not to be unraveled at this point, I went to the garage utility closet, eagerly grasped the shiny silver flashlight and confidently flicked the switch.  Nothing happened.  I knew these batteries were good because we had just replaced them for a Cub Scout ceremony that week.  I asked one of my boys about it and was not happy to hear that the batteries were indeed good, but that he had dropped the light on the way home from the church and the bulb was apparently broken.

Being clever, and getting desperate, I would just take the good batteries out and use them in the kitchen flashlight.  Once again, I was foiled because these too were “C” cell batteries.  I’m sure my behavior was getting frantic and my frustration was visible.  I began to look in every stash and could not find a working combination of flashlight, batteries and working bulb.

I found rotten, leaking battery acid messes and broken bulbs and lense.  In some of my stashes, I could not find the flashlight that belonged there at all.  They must have been with my scissors.  I decided to look out of the box and search in unexpected places.  I called for all games, walkmen (you can Google that word for a definition), hand held video games, ghetto-blasters, tape players (see Google), and electronic “100-in-one electrical activities” boards.  You may think these strange places to look for flashlights, but remember I had a flashlight; all I needed were two “D” cell batteries.  Voila!  In the ghetto blaster were not two, but six “D” batteries.  I only took two of them.  I carefully placed then into the barrel of the flashlight, I turned on the switch and it worked. I grinned with elation at my perseverance and determination.   A lesser woman would have given up.

Unfortunately after the 45 minutes of frantic hunting, momnesia had set in and I had forgotten why I wanted a flashlight in the first place.