Cheaper by the Dozen – 12 top tips for being a happy parent, by Andy Cope
Parenting – it can (and will) get messy. It’s definitely more of an art than a science and there’s a massive dollop of ‘making it up as you go along’.
If there was one MASSIVE over-arching and stupidly simple top tip it would be ‘enjoy the ride’.
With that in mind here are a dozen points that will help:
Practice gratitude every morning when you wake up (woohoo, I’m alive), while you brush your teeth (how amazing, I still have my own teeth), look in the mirror (hello gorgeous), eat your breakfast (yummy food in my tum), commute to work (I have a car, with cup holders and a secret sunglasses compartment!), etc.
Do it as table time activity with your family – go around and say one thing that you are grateful for today. Be thankful for the food you eat and when family life feels like an uphill struggle stop and think of ten reasons to be grateful for your family.
Stop worrying if you are parenting the ‘right way’
Do a quick assessment of your child or children and if 1) they are fed, clean, clothed and warm and 2) they seem happy most of the time, then you are doing a good job. Pat yourself on the back. You are doing just fine.
Save the dying art of sitting at the table
Eat meals together. Busyness and laziness means that eating together as a family is dying out.
Apart from the obvious learning of table manners, social eating also teaches children how to communicate, share and laugh together. Make it happen as often as possible.
Plan adventure goals
Use table time to plan family adventures and create a plan to complete them. Adventures create more memories and eventually, when your time has passed, a day will be dedicated to you (usually with sandwiches and tea) where your children will gather to celebrate your life and talk about you.
These adventures are what they will talk about. So get cracking and create some.
Comparison is a happiness thief. Social media means we can’t help but compare our lives with others. Super Sandra who has a child in the same class as yours is always posting about her daughter’s medals, her perfect grades and her horse riding certificates.
And your kid… he struggles in maths and is scared of horses. Mute Sandra and use that freedom to share more time as award winning tree climbers or wave jumpers instead.
Mood check every morning
Be the best parents you can be every morning when you wake up. Make a habit of mood checking. Check your levels of enthusiasm and zest before waking anyone else.
If your mojo is low, chances are you will infect the rest of the household and the school run will end up a very frazzled affair.
A higher happiness level in the adult waking the children will mean a more enjoyable start to the morning. Note – it won’t guarantee the PE kit will have been packed, but you will cope better when you discover the error.
Act your shoe size a bit more often
Effective parenting is about creating joy and feeling it. It is such a simple thing to create because it’s about being more childlike.
What did you enjoy as child? Feeding the ducks, making petal perfume, climbing a tree, building sand castles, smashing ice with a stick? My shoe size is 8½.
Yep, that sounds about right!
Be as enthusiastic as your kids
How we behave in a moment of triumph and joy makes a huge difference in either building or undermining relationships.
Broadly speaking, parents need to be ‘active constructive’, which means celebrating success with genuine enthusiasm.
I’m not suggesting an over the top punching of the air celebration for every smidgen of good news, but a raising of your levels of enthusiasm means you won’t miss out on so many glorious relationship building opportunities.
The ‘active constructive’ reaction is completely brilliant on all sorts of levels.
The message is they’re proud and you’re proud. Your active constructive response means they know you’re proud. Best of all, you’ve engineered it so you know they know you’re proud.
Do the ‘4-minute rule’
It takes about 4 minutes for others to catch your emotions.
So ask yourself ‘how would the best mum/dad come home from work?’ and be that person, for 4 minutes.
Genuine enthusiasm and passion for life – just for 4 minutes – is the smallest change that will make the biggest difference
Read a bedtime story to your kids like it was the most exciting book in the world.
And note, it is doubly important for sons to see their dads reading books.
Give the gift of time
As humans we have an average lifespan of 4000 weeks, so time is precious and short.
The trick is to spend it wisely.
Children won’t remember what you bought them but they do remember ‘times together’.
This time, once gone, can never be regained. With our children we don’t realise either how fast this time goes; one minute you are changing their nappy and the next you are crying as you pack them off to university or travelling the world.
Remember that you are a role model
This last one is a biggy. The general rule of parenting is that your children won’t do what you say, but they will do what you do.
Hence, if you want positive, happy, well-mannered offspring, the biggest thing you will ever do is to live those qualities yourself. Every single day.
Dr Andy Cope is a positive psychologist and happiness expert.
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