I’ve heard so many parents say that their greatest wish for the kids is for them to be happy and healthy. If you ask anyone who’s a parent what their primary wish for their kids is, they will say, “I just want my kids to be happy and healthy.” This was my mom’s number one wish for me and my siblings. I remember her telling us that her dream was that we would be happy and healthy.

I used to think that this simple wish was sufficient. I believed this phrase to mean so much more. Don’t get me wrong; I think that wanting kids to be “happy and healthy” is a good start to raising kids. It’s completely normal to want to see kids grow up to be happy and healthy individuals. Recently, however, I’ve been feeling let down by the phrase “happy and healthy.” I definitely believe in people being happy and maintaining good health. But I feel like using the the phrase “happy and healthy” to describe what you want for kids is not as thoughtful. The phrase itself seems a little bit cliché. The idea itself is a great start to coaching kids. After all, there are a few exceptions when it comes to parents with some people being apathetic to their children’s well-being. But I think that we as adults need to dig a little bit deeper. What does it take to feel happy in life? And what does feeling healthy mean? To some degree, these concepts are subjective with everyone preferring their own things. But I believe there are some patterns in what produces these feelings if you look at people’s stories.

For most people, the feeling of happiness is achieved by a few things coming together. The first that I’ve observed is that people need to perceive themselves as successful, competent, and intelligent individuals. Think of the last time you were confronted with an issue (work, personal, or family) that you solved. How did that make you feel? If you’re like most of humanity, you felt a sense of pride. Happiness is also created by feeling like you possess some degree of control over your own life. It comes from being able to maintain good connections with people.

My life as an adult has by no means been awful. But it also hasn’t been that exciting either. There are countless things that I wish I could go back and redo. I wish I could rewind to my early 20s and make different choices. One of my biggest disappointments is that I didn’t know how to “steer my own ship.” In analyzing my own life experiences, the other thing that has brought me down is not knowing how to make friends. I tend to be very reserved due to nervousness, and this has restricted the number of friends I’ve had in my life.

I know, I know. I’m talking about my own experiences. And everyone has their own let-downs throughout the course of their life. But I really don’t think I’m that different from anyone else. And as I’ve gotten to know the stories other people share with me, the same patterns seem to emerge. They wish they’d known of other options earlier on, and they wish they’d maintained close friendships or taken more risks. And some of that is just called “life.” Literally everyone is going to have their own regrets as they get older. But I also believe that some life regrets can be minimized if we engage in thoughtful parenting/coaching of children.

But what I want people to think about is, what does it take to help our kids become happy individuals? How are we going to help our kids lead the happiest lives possible? The answer isn’t straight forward; there definitely isn’t one simple answer and it’s imperative for everyone to use their best judgement to figure out what works best. But I also believe there are strategies adults can use to prepare kids for the road of life.

My first recommendation is to help kids hone their executive function skill set. Executive function isn’t just one skill; it’s a variety of skills that help us get tasks done. The skills include self-regulation, planning, self-advocacy, and time management. Executive function is something I struggled with as a kid and still struggle with as an adult. My inability to execute properly on tasks was reflected in my lower grades and performance in school. I’ve heard countless other stories of people who struggles with their academics in school and they attribute it to poor executive function. Executive function is critical in a person’s success because it determines a person’s ability to complete diverse tasks and regulate their own emotions.

The second recommendation I have is that you get very specific with what your kids need to learn. I know of many parents who hope their kids will mature and anticipate this will happen by their kids autonomously self-reflecting on their experiences (middle school, high school, and college). Despite recognizing that their child is immature, they advise their kids to make the next leap in life and believe that the immaturity will fade away. This is exactly the kind of thing that happened to me as a kid and I wish that it had been different. Kids generally learn self-reflection, but it doesn’t really occur until later in life, and by that point sometimes it’s too late.

Rather than just hoping your kids will grow into successful adults, set specific goals for them. Analyze the things your child struggles with and reflect on the skills that they lack in certain situations. Do cling to you when surrounded by other people? Do they ask for help when they need it? Additionally, consider the things that your child can do without your help and guidance. Can they get their homework in on time? Can they take the bus alone? Can they study for their tests effectively? The goal is to get kids to function independently. The skills your kid needs may be academic related, but they may also not be academic related. It could be that your child has trouble seeing things to the end due to planning and organization. Or your kid might struggle with communicating their own needs and feelings, which may indicate they need to learn how to self-advocate. After analyzing what your kid struggles with, make a plan with how to help them learn these things.

Additionally, it’s also critical that kids are granted autonomy within their life. The key to raising happy and healthy people is to let them experience the secrets of success during childhood. Kids need opportunities where they are able to practice decision-making for themselves. Avoid telling your kids the answers to problems (both academic and social-emotional). You can assist in the growing process by asking questions. This gives kids a chance to think about the choices they want to make. So make sure that the children you work with are learning to direct their own lives during their youth. Learn to ask them more questions rather than telling them the solutions to their problems.

The strategies listed above are what I believe help children develop the independence necessary to be happy. They may be somewhat generic, but I think they’re important rules of thumb to remember. This last piece of advice is what I believe to be the most important. Be a constant learner of both your kids and strategies to help them. Be willing to learn about what your kids need and their individual learning needs. Be willing to challenge what you already know about the world by learning about new information that arises. And be willing to seek out information in your pursuit of helping your children.

Too often, we tell our kids what to think and what to do. This happens at both at home and at school. At school, students are expected to memorize dates, math facts, historical events, etc. that we, the adults, have deemed important. They’re not given as much freedom to form they’re own opinions sometimes. I think it’s funny that school is connected to the idea of learning. (And I absolutely believe that school is important for children.) But learning isn’t just about the content. It’s also about skills and mindsets. And I think we as adults need to rethink how we support children so that they can learn how to think for themselves. It’s only in this way that children will have what it takes to lead a happy and contented life where they can steer their own ship.

The Secret Behind Raising Happy and Healthy Children

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