Tutor Reveals How to Make Happiness a Habit For Your Child

Two weeks ago, I saw a photo of a girl I tutor holding up a piece of white paper.  In large, purple letters, the nine-year-old had just painted, “I <LOVE> MY LIFE.” At the time, her father and I marveled that this girl, a native French speaker, chose to write in English.  The image has lingered in my subconscious as I prepared to write this newsletter.  I now realize that her linguistic fluency is the least of this girl’s gifts.  How many of us can say, “I <LOVE> MY LIFE?  How many of our children do?

Photo: Shared with the author by the artist’s father

Photo: Shared with the author by the artist’s father

This February, I’ll explore the theme of LOVE as it relates to children in the Desk to Nest blog.  To receive the latest issue delivered straight to your inbox each Thursday, click here. To get answers to your questions about your education, goal setting – January’s blog theme – or how to nurture your child’s self-love, tune into Facebook Live February 28 at 7pm. If you’re busy at that time but would like me to answer your question during the broadcast, email it to me now.  It’ll be like having your own tutor in your living room!  

For now, read on for my top three tips to lead your child to “<LOVE> HIS/HER/THEIR* LIFE.”

Photo: Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash

Photo: Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash

1.   Model Happiness. 

In the poem, “Children Learn What They Live,” Dorothy Nolte penned a series of simple truisms like, “If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn,” as well as “If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.”  (Written in 1972, this poem hung outside my childhood bedroom. Thanks, Mom!) 

What do your children “live with”?  If I could add one line to Nolte’s already perfect poem, it’d be, “If children live with joy, they learn happiness.”  Resolve to be your child’s “happiness tutor.”  Show your children that you are worthy of choosing to do things that make you happy, and they will understand that joy is their birthright.

2.   Find Out What Makes Them Happy.

Have you enrolled your son who loves to play piano in soccer because it’s the “right thing to do”?  “Kids need exercise,” you reason, “and our budget allows for just one afterschool activity per child.”  You’re right: kids do need exercise and the family budget isa key consideration when choosing their activities.  But maybe the rough-and-tumble world of soccer’s not the right fit for a boy who dislikes contact sports.  

Think outside the box when trying to steer your child toward a well-rounded lifestyle.  Perhaps dance would be a better physical outlet for a child who loves music.  Or, maybe you and your son could commit to a new (and free) bike-riding regimen that would satisfy his need for exercise with while permitting him to begin piano lessons with a new tutor.  Try not to let gender norms and your dreams for (or others’ expectations about) the “perfect child” get in the way of his health and happiness.


Photo: Lonely Planet on Unsplash

Photo: Lonely Planet on Unsplash

3.    Ask Them If They’re Happy. 

It’s possible your seven-year-old loved soccer. Now that he’s eleven, he hates it – but suffers in silence to make you happy.  Or, he slogs through soccer because he doesn’t know that there are other options. Maybe she used to love her reading and writing tutor.  For the past six months, though, the tutor himself has been depressed and your daughter’s progress has stalled.

Children’s needs and wants change much more quickly than ours do.  Check in with them once a month or so to find out whether they’re happy – and be prepared for what you might do or how you might react if they’re not.

Asking direct questions might be a better tack than simply querying, “Are you happy?”  For example, you might inquire, “Do other kids tease you at school?  What do they say?  What do they do?  How do you feel when they do or say these things?”  Eventually, your child will know instinctively that it’s OK to come to you with these sorts of events and feelings.  However, if you haven’t discussed such issues or feelings before, asking, “Are you happy?” might be too vague a question for some children.  

Consider the variety of contexts in which your child lives when you ask about their happiness.  Feel free to space these questions out over several days or even weeks. (You don’t want your child to feel as though they’re being interrogated!)  Here are a list of contexts about which you may want to ask: 

·     school (consider different subjects and teachers, as well as non-classroom times affiliated with school, like recess and bus rides)

·     afterschool activities

·     religious and other community organizations

·     friends and peers

·     relatives, family friends and other adults (including a tutor )

Sadly, given the world we now live in, you may want to include age-appropriate questions about your child’s relationships with adults in these contexts.

Photo: Freestock on Unsplash

Photo: Freestock on Unsplash

Final Thoughts on Cultivating the Happiness Habit in Your Kids

Like most habits, happiness and self-love are best cultivated as early in one’s life as possible.  But, if your child is a teen – or if YOU are in your 60s! – that doesn’t mean it’s too late to choose a new path.  Start with these three tips and continue reading the Desk to Nest blog each Thursday in February for more insights on how to nurture our children’s love for themselves and others.
Next week, I’ll share recent insights from an activity that I loved as a child and have only recently returned to: reading for sheer pleasure. To get that blog post delivered to your inbox, click here.  Until then, see you on Facebook and Instagram!

Wishing you a love-filled February (and ALL of 2019),
Dr. P.

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*A note on pronouns: I apologize that it’s taken me so long to adopt the gender-neutral “they/them/their/theirs.”  From now on, I’ll be using these gender-neutral pronouns alongside “she/her/hers” and “he/him/his.”  I strive to give each set equal time in my written work, and apologize if an imbalance appears.