If You’re Happy and You Know It…
By Molly Brown Koch
In a television commercial, an adorable little girl in a pink tutu emerges victorious from the bathroom. She jumps up and down and, along with her mother, claps her hands over her success at toilet training. Perhaps her first. Mom ought to memorize the picture of her child’s glee and satisfaction over “a job well done” as a reminder of the vital role success plays in a child’s self-image.
We may not think of toilet training as anything more than the end of the endless stream of diapers, but it seems to me that it is more. Here was the little girl’s first awareness of herself as a capable person. She will want to repeat her success, especially because it met with her mother’s approval and appreciation.
But it is also important for her to see herself as capable. She is learning how to value her own accomplishments. This is how she gets to accept her specialness. And to top it all off, her triumph in the bathroom made her happy.
So this brings us to the question of what makes children happy. For some, such as the little girl in the pink tutu, it’s the sense of accomplishment (and pleasing her mother). For others, it is having good friends, while others are happy when they discover new ideas or facts. For most children, it is the time they spend with attentive parents.
For many children, happiness seems to hinge on getting the latest toy or gadget. The problem with that is it is short-lived. Children tire of toys, and electronic gadgets are often outdated even before the bill is paid. Computer games are fun to play, but the child is happiest when he or she wins—and there is an accomplishment to boast about.
Yes, we want our children to be happy, but is it our job to make them happy?
For example, do we feel we’re supposed to make our children happy when they are sad? What’s so bad about sad? Don’t children have the right to feel the full sweep of human emotions?
Instead of trying to happy them out of it, we need to help them learn how to handle sadness. And, when they do learn how to handle sadness on their own, they’ll be well on their way to being happy again because they did it on their own.
We can and should comfort our children, but not so excessively that they are robbed of the chance to nurture themselves—a blueprint they will need when they are out on their own. We can also show them how their sad feelings can lead to having sympathy and compassion for others who are sad.
Are we supposed to make our children happy by entertaining them when they are bored?
Some parents are glad to drop everything and spend time with their restless child, which can be good. But not all of the time. Parents should also be mindful of their child’s need to find ways to entertain him or herself.
Shouldn’t we try to make the angry child happy? It would certainly make us feel better.
One thing we ought not to do is try to humor him or her out of being angry. Children have a right to be angry and, by our acceptance of it, we help them accept themselves in their worst moment.
Let’s take a cue from the Constitution of the United States, which does not guarantee its citizens happiness—just the freedom to pursue it. Just think of what it would take for the government to make each one of us happy!
We, too, can give our children the freedom to pursue happiness. We can give them a safe place to live, where joy happens, where they are loved, nurtured, accepted, and respected, where their goodness is cultivated, and where we bring out the best in them. Then, we can leave the rest up to them.
After all is said and done, there is a way you can contribute to your children’s happiness. Perhaps the best way of all. Be happy yourself; it’s contagious. Then show them how to take delight in the little things, how to make the best of bad situations, and how to enjoy the work of your own hands. Fill your house with laughter and fun, sing with them, dance with them, cherish them. Walk in the park with them, talk with them, listen to them, support them, reach out to them. Be happy they are your children. That ought to do it.
When the late opera star Beverly Sills was asked how she could be so happy when she had two disabled children, one whose deafness precluded her ever hearing her mother’s beautiful voice, Sills replied, “Even if I cannot be happy, I can be cheerful.”
In or out of the opera, Sills was a star. BC
Molly Brown Koch is the author of 27 Secrets to Raising Amazing Children, published locally by Sidran Press. Her book recently received the National Mom’s Choice Silver Award.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. August 2008