by Christina DiMartino
If you’re a happy parent, you’ll have a much better chance of having a happy kid. And it’s not just the general atmosphere of your home. Kids, especially when they are younger, mimic their parents’ behaviors, says Christine Carter, Ph.D., the executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley, and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.
“Children imitate their parents’ emotions as early as six days old,” says Carter. “It is one of the primary ways they learn and grow. So if we model happiness and all the skills that go with it, our kids are likely to behave in the same way. If I model a key happiness habit like kindness and generosity, for example, my daughters are more likely to become kind and generous.”
Carter adds that people’s emotions tend to converge. The more they are together, the more they become more similar emotionally. It follows that the happier you are, the happier your children will be. She adds that of all emotions, happiness is particularly contagious.
Put your marriage first
“Many couples believe their marriage is strong because they seldom argue,” says Code. “But the real silent killer of marriage is when we avoid our spouse in order to keep the peace. Our kids pay a heavy price for that.
“As parents grow more distant from one another, they project their distress and needs onto their children. Kids pick up on everything, so today’s children are essentially bearing the burden of their parents’ distant marriages, often developing health and behavioral problems as a result of misplaced stress.”
Putting your marriage first even when parenting children can improve family dynamics. It frees up your kids to establish their own identity, learn self-reliance, and become more independent adults. Your marriage can also set a great example for your kids’ future relationships. Being happy is a win-win for every member of your family.
Strive to be a happy parent
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a counselor, lecturer and author. She says she often asks the parents she’s counseling if their parents were happy.
“Most of the time they say no,” says Paul. “I ask them if they wanted their parents to be happy and invariably they say yes. Yet these same parents are not taking responsibility for making themselves happy now. They are acting just like their parents: anxious, angry, depressed, withdrawn, resistant or compliant. They are controlling with each other or with their children in the same ways their parents were controlling.”
Paul advises parents to take responsibility for learning how to be happy themselves so they can be role models for their children.
“How can your children learn how to take emotional responsibility if you and your spouse don’t?” she asks. “You are role modeling every moment. How can they learn to take care of themselves if you are not taking care of yourselves?”
Ask yourself these questions:
Reader’s Digest offers simple ways to get happy. Here are just a few:
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.© Photo by Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com