The parenting mistake we’re probably all guilty of making


Being happy is something you do not something you are

It’s no doubt the #1 response parents make when they ask what they want for their kids in life: “I just want my child to be happy.”

“I just want my child to be happy.”

We mean it wholeheartedly when we say it. Then we leave that happiness to chance.

We talk to our kids about their feelings, if they are sad or fearful or angry or anxious but we rarely help them to cultivate happiness because it’s not something we were taught to do ourselves. We were taught that ‘happy’ is something that you are, not something that you do.

We were taught that ‘happy’ is something that you are, not something that you do.

Happiness is, in fact, something you create. It’s a skill that can be cultivated and the earlier we teach our kids that skill, the sooner happiness, resilience, optimism, productivity and contentment become a habit.

We can set them up for a positive life.

Being happy

You are not responsible for your child’s happiness

Our scientific understanding of what contributes to human happiness has exploded over the past 20 years. We know that happiness is much more than simply ‘feeling good’. Contentment, connection with others, feeling capable and in control and bouncing back when things go wrong are important components. A sense of meaning and purpose in life is vital too.

Try this: 4 quick happiness hacks that really make a difference


We might all say, “I just want my child to be happy”, but parents are not responsible for kids’ happiness. They have to work that out for themselves. You can, however, create the conditions within your family that allow them to explore, test, fail, feel, grow, flourish and find their happy.

Start with a conversation

Talking to your kids about happiness is a great place to start. You can start thinking about and discussing happiness as a skill as soon as you have children (or before). It’s a mindset that we develop ourselves in order to model it for our kids.

When we talk to our kids about happiness, the conversation is really about:

•  Taking care of ourselves and others

•  The things we love to do

•  What we are good at

•  Our relationships

•  How we manage tough times

•  Our hopes and dreams for the future.

For primary school years

Talk to primary-aged kids about what they enjoy doing and what gives them energy – these are their strengths. Encourage them to explore and use their unique strengths and celebrate these with them to develop their confidence and self-belief. Using our strengths regularly is linked to happiness and well being.

Conversations about feelings are also helpful at this age. Talk to them about positive feelings and give them words to name their feelings. Explore joy, curiosity, hope, relief, love, satisfaction, pride and awe. Notice the micro moments in which these emotions arise. Point them out and savour them together.

More from Ellen: 12 apps that will give you a happiness boost


For teens

The teen years can be filled with harsh self-judgement as kids become more self-aware and self-conscious. Talking to your teen about being kind to himself develops the skill of self-compassion – a skill associated with mental health and resilience. 

Being happy is somethingwe can foster in our children

Remind him that our teen years are tough, that everyone struggles at times and that he should speak to himself kindly, as he would a friend. This is not ‘letting himself off the hook’ but rather providing him with a source of empowerment, learning and inner strength. We grow when we give ourselves permission to learn from our challenges, not when we berate ourselves for failure.

Focus on what’s right

Parenting is a tough gig. We set ourselves high expectations to grow our young people into happy and successful adults. Often this results in us fixing on faults and failure as we seek to make them whole, perhaps more than we can be ourselves.

Notice the positives: 5 strengths-based parenting tips


But a focus on what’s lacking leads to conversations tinged with fear and negativity, criticism and frustration. It sets the tone for a combative and difficult family environment.

When we flip our focus to happiness, we open our hearts and minds to possibility. We help our kids to see more, do more and be more. Simple, every day discussions about what makes us happy and well creates a vibe of acceptance, encouragement and joy. It helps us create a home in which we can all thrive and flourish – and that’s worth talking about.

Are you guilty of saying “I just want my child to be happy” too?

Feature image by Caju Gomes; wheat by Quan Nguyen 


Written by Ellen Jackson

Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist who does things differently. She writes about everyday people and why we do what we do. When she’s not tapping at the laptop she coaches, she teaches and she helps workplaces to solve their people problems. Ellen has been making online friends since before the internet had pictures. You can join her tribe on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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