“What makes you happy, Onetime?” I asked my 3 year old son today at dinner and his heart-melting answer to me was, “Mommy!” (I swear I didn’t make this up or prep him to answer that!)
And it was just another one of those moments where I realized, probably for the 1000th+ time, how much of an impact we make as parents.
When I first began writing this alphabetic Character Series, I was thinking about all the positive traits that I wanted to see develop in my son as he matures. I believe that reflecting on how we want our kids to become, can make a big difference in how we parent them now.
Over the past 26 weeks of reflection, I’ve learned so much about what I can do as his mother, to help him become a wonderful man, full of character. But the simple truth is that, regardless of all the traits on that list, what I really want for my son… is happiness.
Now I’m not naive enough to think that there is a simple recipe for happiness. And I even question whether we should even desire for our kids to BE happy all the time. It’s through experiencing all the emotions that we really feel alive.
And really, how much control do I even have over how happy my son ends up being in life? There are so many other variables that will affect his sense of well-being and he’s only just beginning his life at the age of 3!
On top of that, some research even suggests that up to 80-90% of a person’s subjective experience of being “happy” may be genetically determined.
For the 10-20% of the part of his happiness that is under his control, that will depend on how he thinks about himself and life in general, and the choices that he makes. I know that I can have a big impact there.
As I prepared to write today’s very last topic in my character series, I began to realize that each one of the alphabetic posts had an important message to contribute to Z is for Zestful.
Please humour me one last time in this reflection back on this alphabetic parenting adventure! Along the way, I hope you enjoy reading some amazing ways that other parents have found to encourage zest and happiness in their children.
A is for Adventurous
In coming up with a list of ways to have inexpensive “mini-adventures” with young children, I realized that the important message was to spend quality time with my son having fun!
“Get up, get out, and get moving! I find my kids are happiest when we are active and engaged together. It is as simple as going for a walk to pick up leaves, having a dance party in the living room, or heading out to the backyard in our PJs to look at the stars and moon.” Laura from Sunny Day Family
“I think letting kids help pick outings and parts of meals helps. We find joy being outside.” Deirdre from JDaniel4’s Mom
B is for “Behaved”
After learning about the importance of listening to, and acknowledging my son’s feelings, I realized that I couldn’t continue to think of my son as a little person to control using punishment and rewards. B.F. Skinner was wrong! (at least when it comes to little people…) So much of my son’s future self-concept would depend on how much we showed him that we valued his internal experiences.
“Taking the time to listen. It’s amazing how kids will open up and share their soul if you give them the time of day. Taking the time to actively listen to my son, even if it’s not something relevant… is important to him. It lets him know I care about him, that he is worth listening to. When he feels ignored, he becomes lackluster and sad. So by simply listening to him, I can help him stay happy and energized!” Betsy from Betsy’s Photography
C is for Confident
In this post, I touched on the importance of teaching kids to be assertive from a young age. When kids are assertive, they feel confident enough to be their true selves – the foundation of living happily.
“I struggled to answer this question. For my family, it’s about creating an environment that promotes happiness through adventure, learning, and fun. Helping your child be happy is not just about one thing, it’s a combination of approaches, many of which were discussed in One Time Through’s character blogging series!” Jenna, mother of a 3 year old boy
D is for Dauntless
While sharing experiences dealing with my son’s severe peanut allergy, I realized that if we want our kids to live life to its fullest (and most happiest!), without letting fear control their actions, we need to help instil caution and courage.
E is for Empathetic
One of the most important posts in the series. Helping our kids develop empathy is something we need to work on as a society. It’s a basis from which to build happy relationships of all types.
“Laughter keeps our life full of zest. Whether it’s telling silly jokes, having a tickle fest or going fun places, things that make our family laughing keep us loving life. And each other!” Anne from Left Brain Craft Brain
F is for Friendly
Living a life surrounded by a few, or even many, good friends is probably one of the biggest keys to being happy. There are lots of ways we can help our kids in this area, starting with being a good friend to our own children.
“Being caught up on sleep, special family trips, physical activity, fresh air and cuddle time/reading are all key. In our new neighbourhood, we have started family walks before bedtime and this is now a special time that brings close conversation, laughter, “together time” and fresh air right before sleep. It is a such a nice slow down/touch base opportunity at the end of our busy days and we all love it. Also, our boy has lovely friends and we have noted that having his buddies over at our home, one-on-one and in small groups, on a regular basis brings huge excitement for our boy before, during and after these “hang outs.” We love our family time and also seeing his awesome social life in action — it all brings zest!”
Amy, mother of a 10 year old
G is for Grateful
When we change our mindset to focus on the positives in our lives and what we are thankful for, suddenly all the losses, disappointments, and failures don’t seem so bad. This is such an important skill to teach our kids if we want them to actively search for the upside of life!
H is for Honest
Through my research into why young kids “lie”, I discovered that the way that we react to our kids’ mistakes can determine how truthful they will become with us. If we want our kids to be their true selves with us, and to feel safe and happy with us when they “mess up,” we need to work with them on honesty.
I is for Independent
Part of feeling happy in many of our lives as adults depends much on how capable we feel. The more capable, the higher our self-esteem, the happier and more satisfied we are with our lives.
J is for Joyful
Connection with our kids comes easily to some of us and not to others. For me, I had to learn to play with my son. It didn’t come naturally, like it did for my husband.
I had so much fun researching all these terrific ways to connect with your child through play (even when you’re short on time!) and they have made all the difference to my bond with my son.
“My kids are happier the more time we spend with them – not running off to extra-curriculars, but time when they are the focus – playing lego, telling silly stories, making forts, and really listening to them. In a family with 4 children and a hobby farm as well as lots of other things on the go- time is busy and free parent time is rather short – but we make the effort!” Jennifer, mother of 4
“Play with your kids! There is nothing that makes my kids happier than when I get down on the floor and play, laugh, act silly and spend quality fun time with them.”
Viviana from Totschooling
K is for Knowledgeable
“Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers.” I learned to never underestimate our power as parents to influence and guide our kids.
“The first thing that came to mind [to encourage happiness] was cuddling up and reading books every night together. The kids love story/cuddle time! My older two really enjoy the sports they are involved in and always seem to be more zestful after. Lots of trips to the park/outdoor play. And of course lots of hugs and kisses. Camping trips and boating/fishing are great bonding times for our family.” Heather, mother of 3 (soon to be 4!)
L is for Loving
Another really important subject. After learning about the pros and cons of using punishment with children, my entire mindset changed. I am now a firm advocate for raising kids without punishment (or rewards). Parenting styles have a dramatic effect on our kids’ future ways of coping with life. Although it’s not always easy to parent without punishing, I feel it’s the best choice for keeping my son’s self-esteem intact as he matures.
“Hug and kiss, cuddle, smile, tell them you love them. And they will grow up to love themselves and others too.” Mihaela from Best Toys for Toddlers
M is for Mellow
After learning about the importance of accepting and acknowledging our kids’ negative feelings, I began to see how a few simple phrases and actions could bring so much comfort to my son when he was upset and parenting became a LOT happier for me too.
“Model and teach how to regroup from sad or unpleasant experiences. We all have them and knowing the strategies that work best for coping and moving forward from disappointment, anger, and sadness will help children (and adults) live a happier life.” Amanda from The Educators’ Spin On It
N is for Nature-Loving
For me, time spent in nature is solace, comfort, and pure happiness. I was thrilled to share many of my ideas for getting kids connected to mother nature in this post.
“To have a spring in our family’s step, we all need to be well rested. We sometimes stay up for special occasions and can’t control when the boys are sick or scared, but we aim for 11 hours (6 year old) and 12 hours (3 year old) of sleep a night. I think this (and lots of outdoor play!) is why my boys are for the most part happy, lively and can adapt to life’s ups and downs.” Verena, mother of 2 boys, ages 3 and 6
O is for Optimistic
How we actively model and teach our kids to view the world, will have a significant impact on their happiness.
“I’m just starting to learn MYSELF that happiness is often a choice. So I think that it’s important to teach our kids while they are young to CHOOSE happiness through their reactions to things that are out of their control and their actions and attitudes in their everyday lives.”Krissy from B-Inspired Mama
P is for Polite
Although a well-mannered child is nice to have, this post was less about having a perfectly polite child, and more about helping our kids to learn social graces that would smooth the way for them to build positive relationships in their lives…one of our biggest sources of happiness.
Q is for InQuisitive
Curiosity IS zest! How can we foster it (and be sure not to squash it) in the relentless pursuit of wanting our kids to excel? Nurture it!
“Spend time outside, make time for pretend play and exploration, and be curious yourself!” MaryAnne, mother of 4 from Mama Smiles
Have a regular opportunity to be together. For instance, [when the kids were younger] we had Griffindor night (Harry Potter Days) every Friday. It included PJs, pizza (sometimes take-out) and popcorn with a movie. Lots of togetherness after our busy weeks. Second suggestion is we drove, walked, ran or biked every Sunday morning to Tim Horton’s. It was time to spend together and to really find out how everyone was doing. Finally, we read to our kids every single night and tucked them into bed. The last thing we did before our children headed to University was buy a kids’ book suited to them (ie. Oh the Places You’ll Go). My husband and I wrote encouraging messages and we read the book to them on their final night at home. Our children are the biggest investment of our lives and what we contribute and give of our time, creates zestful children because they are loved and know that when life is tough, they have a safe place to fall. Parenting has been one of my life’s greatest gifts. The journey is not a perfect one, as life is full of ups and downs, but the rewards of parenting are endless. Cindy, mother of 3 young adults
R is for Responsible
As with independence, helping our kids to develop this trait only helps to build their self-esteem and pave the way for positive social relations with others.
S is for Social: Helping Aggressive Kids
I learned so much in my research for this post. We cannot afford as a society to continue to view children’s “misbehaviours” as something to fix with punishment. We MUST look deeper into why children are struggling and think deeper about how we approach these challenging behaviours.
“Since we made a conscious decision to slow things down around here following an illness almost 2 years ago I have noticed a huge difference in my children’s sense of stability, contentment, and calm. My son in particular has become a lot happier and less anxious as there is a lot less pressure in the home. We try very hard not to over schedule, I’m now lucky enough to stay home with the kiddies and we now spend a lot more mindful and meaningful time together.” Ciara from Our Little House in the Country
T is for Talented
Learning to accept and support our children for who they ARE and how they are SPECIAL and unique, versus what we want them to be is an ongoing process. If everyone did just that with their children, think of what a different place this world would be…
“I think kids are naturally zestful when they feel confident to be their natural self. By providing a stable loving environment, consistent parenting, and stimulating activities, children can enjoy the world around them and their natural zest for life.” Katie from A Little Pinch of Perfect
U is for Understanding
While writing this post, I realized how important it is to be flexible as a parent. Compromising with our kids, and problem-solving WITH them is essential if we want them to learn these skills which will only help them navigate the tricky social world of adulthood.
V is for Values-Centred
This post was quite different from the others in that it asked readers to really reflect on what they valued and how they were communicating that to their children. As I went through the process myself – I realized many areas where I wanted to improve. This is one place where we have almost unlimited ability to influence our kids – we want to make sure that we’re passing on what we intend!
“Teaching by example is the best way to give over any lesson. Making sure that you are a happy person is the most powerful way you can ensure that your children are happy…” Menucha from Moms and Crafters
W is for “Wonder-Full”
Although this post was about how to encourage kids to develop a love of science, it really is about the importance of learning WITH your child. Experiencing joy in shared experiences are happy memories your child will hold for a lifetime.
“I’ve found that my attitude as a mom is quickly reflected in my children. When I act like everything is old news, my kids tend to be less enthusiastic and excited. But when I take joy in the little things and openly bask in their wonder, my kids start to make a habit of it too. It’s like their vision changes as the blinders are taken off. The boring becomes beautiful.” Julie from My Mundane and Miraculous Life
X is for eXpressive: Assertive SUPER-POWERS
The more we can support our kids to express themselves assertively from a young age, the happier they will be and the chances of them suffering through needless conflict and abuse will be minimized.
“Spend time listening to each other. Celebrate each others’ accomplishments, best days, and joys. We share the best part of our days each evening at the dinner table. Make an effort to slow down and check in. Date your kids, one at a time.” Tanya, mother of 4
Y is for (being) YourSELF: Healthy Self-Esteem
It’s arguably the biggest predictor of happiness. Enough said!
“Children really are zestful! As parents I think it’s our job to nurture the lively spirit within them. The rule around our home is to keep laughing. A quick chase around the house, a family tickle fight or silly dancing session all act as great distractions for boredom and temper tantrums.” Sofia, mother of 2 girls
Z is for Zestful
If there IS a recipe for happiness, in my opinion it would be a combination of positive parenting, conscious parental decision-making keeping respect for the child at the center, and modelling OUR best selves. Sue from One Time Through
“Hmm… I would actually go with Zen for Z, and not with Zestful. Zen means self-awareness and ability to look at the situation from outside. So hard to do even for adults, but so beneficial to learn early!” Natalie from Planet Smartypants
Thank you so much to all of you who have joined me on this alphabetic journey. I’ve really enjoyed all the discussion along the way and learned so much from you!
If you’ve just found my blog, find all the previous posts at our Character Series page. Or join us in a brand new series called Positive Parenting.
To zestful kids, and happy families!
Katie Pinch says
Sue, Your character series has been so amazing and therapeutic. I felt like you where right here holding my hand teaching, and helping me reflect on how I can be a better parent. Thanks so much for all the inspiration!!! -Katie
Sue Lively says
Thanks so much Katie – they say that people teach what they need to learn. Glad to have had you along on the journey! Best, Sue
wow, what a great series and great list of traits! Thank you!
Sue Lively says
Thanks so much maggiemaysgifts – it’s been a journey for sure! Best, Sue