Saturday, November 7, 2009

Keys to happiness

You are your child’s best role model, so follow your instincts

I was going through my book shelves over the weekend, and this is what I discovered.
I have 13 parenting books ranging from sleeping tips to medical advice to happy families, four books on conception and pregnancy, two books about childbirth, four recipe books relating to cooking for children, and four miscellaneous books about babies being a mother.
That’s 29 books jam-packed full of words of wisdom and, I bet there are more hiding in drawers or on loan to friends.
Sometimes, parents like me forget that their biggest influence on how they raise their children is instinct.
Parenting books were rare when I was a baby but now they fill rows of shelves in bookstores – and my house – eagerly snapped up by parents facing one dilemma after another.
These books will certainly give you ideas (particularly if you have a particular issue, such as children who don’t sleep) but it doesn’t come close to the fact that only you understand your child and their needs. My philosophy is to take wisdom from the pages of parenting books, consider the methods and whether they will work for my child and my family and, if they do, then add these strategies to our day- to-day life.
Another parenting book landed on my desk recently and I delegated it to the ho-hum pile as at first glance it appeared to be just another how-to guide.
Entitled 100 Ways to Happy Children, A Guide for Busy Parents, I finally picked it up over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes in life we struggle to find happiness. I have had a particularly bad year and I have had times when thinking positive has not been easy.
But how can we confidently teach our children happiness if we can’t find it in ourselves? The book’s author, psychologist and father of two Dr Timothy Sharp, draws on the latest research into positive psychology.

In it he discusses issues such as:
  • Being a good and happy role model
  • Promoting physical health
  • Setting boundaries
  • Negotiating school and learning
  • Dealing with challenging behaviour
  • Creating family time
  • Celebrating individual qualities
Much of Dr Sharp’s advice is common sense and merely a reminder of how much we should love our children for who they are.
It is interesting in that this is not a book about solving problems. It is about increasing optimism, building strong relationships and being good role models. There are lots of anecdotes through the book, as well as simple exercises to try as a family.
I found that many chapters will change parents’ way of thinking for the better by turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts. For example, if you’ve ever thought “my child takes so long to make a decision”, try thinking “my child is highly discretionary and cautious and these are useful strengths”.
The nice thing about this book is that you don’t have to read it from cover to cover. Its short chapters allow parents to dip into a topic anywhere in the book.
A famous children’s illustrator, Mary Engelbreit said: “If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
This is so true for parenting. You can’t change your toddler who throws a tantrum in the supermarket, but you can change the way you handle it. If you end up smacking or screaming, perhaps it’s time to rethink your approach.
I have shooed away the tantrum tiger in my three-year-old by simply staying calm, distracting her by changing the subject or making something fun, and keeping the mood happy.
Parents should also realise that their expectations of their children are often far too high. Kids need time to learn how to control their emotions and, when they get angry and frustrated, they should be allowed time to calm down.
Punishment for having a tantrum doesn’t teach the child how to deal with those raw emotions but Dr Sharp has some excellent ideas on how to manage negative emotions.
The best role model for your child is you. It is OK to let your child see you sad, angry or frustrated but it is even more important that they see how you deal with these moments in a mature and competent manner.


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