The Parenting Mistake We All Make When it Comes to Kids and Feelings

“I just want my child to be happy”

It’s what we say when asked what we hope for our child’s future.

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, or are not.

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 set them up for a positive life.

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 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.

As a parent you are not responsible for your children’s happiness. They have to work that out for themselves. You can however guide them and create the conditions within your family that allow them to explore, test, fail, feel, grow, flourish and find happiness.

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. Then we talk about it in age appropriate ways.

For littlies

Ask them what makes them happy and talk to them about what makes you happy. Talk to them about being kind and strong and able to cope with challenges in life. Help them to develop their resilience by learning to do things for themselves.

The Primary School Years

Talk to school 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.

For Teens and Older Kids

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. 

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.

Parenting is a tough gig. We set ourselves high expectations to grow our little 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.

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.


This post is an excerpt of my e-Book ‘The Positive Parenting Toolkit’, currently available for just AU$8.50. Read more about how to create a flourishing family environment, help your kids to build resilience, keep kids safe online and choosing a positive school for your child.



You might also be interested in this great review of The Positive Parenting Toolkit on Planning With Kids

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P.S. Have you heard our wonderful guest psychologists, neuroscientists and other experts in the brain and behaviour on The Potential Psychology Podcast? Not only can you listen in via iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Radio Public, you can also download the complete collection of parenting, performance and wellbeing tips from our experts guests from Seasons 1 - 3. Just click below. There is a wealth of simple strategies for fulfilling your potential, all in one place!