5 Tips for Raising Happier Kids
It's almost February, which historically has always been the hardest month of our homeschooling year.
- Post-Christmas blues? Check.
- Crumby weather? Check.
- Early-onset summer-itis? Check.
- Grumpy mama? You bet.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I wish I could shout at the top of my lungs, "Everyone better be HAPPY right NOW or you're all GROUNDED!" But then I remember we're homeschoolers and my kids don't know what grounded is.
Espresso? Yes please, I'll take four.
There are, however, a few "tricks of the trade" that I always can count on to raise the morale of our home. I can't even tell you how many books I've read on parenting. I've been to seminars, attended parenting small groups and bible studies, and listened to podcasts. Along the way I've accumulated a small collection of the most rewarding advice I've received. By that I mean the practices which, when implemented in my home, yield noticeable changes in my kids' happiness.
One last note: I can't overstate that raising happy kids is not the same as raising godly kids. These tips will help your home see fewer tantrums, more respect, leading to a more enjoyable time together. Everybody wins. But this is only the beginning. If your children respect you, they're more likely to hear what you teach them about the gospel. But you do actually have to teach them the gospel. More on that in another post.
Here are my 5 favorite tips for raising happy kids:
5. Find their currency
Earlier I mentioned my kids don't know what grounded is. That's because as a family we are so selective about the activities we participate in, that I generally don't feel comfortable taking away any of these events as discipline. Is our church involvement fun? Oh yes. But it's also a responsibility we have as the Bride of Christ. Is our homeschool community my kids' favorite day of the week? Absolutely. But it's also our community, and outside of habitual sin, I don't see a biblical case for isolation for bad behavior. So we need something else. A language that my kids already speak, which I can learn.
What is your child's currency? Like a bank account, you need to be able to add and subtract this currency. It's not enough to threaten spanking or timeouts every time you get talked back to. There has to be give-and-take. Does your son love Legos? You can take some away, take some more, or give them back according to behavior. Does your daughter love to cook? Reward her by letting her bake or help with dinner. She loses that privilege when the sass escalates too high. Your child's currency could be anything from outdoor playtime, to special sweets, to screen time, to more elaborate things like a point system where they can save points for unique experiences.
The beauty of this model is that you never, ever have to yell. You never, ever have to repeat yourself. You never have to count to three. You simply comment that a bit of currency is being given or taken. Since they know there is more currency to be lost (or gained), the obedience is swift.
4. Have a "break chair"
Imagine a child who, without being told, notices his behavior is out of bounds, so he elects to self-impose a time-out upon himself. Instead of disappearing into the darkest recesses of the house, he sits a few feet outside of the circle of activity, still observing, but collecting his thoughts and regaining self-control.
This is what the break chair has done for our family.
I introduced it in our home a few years ago by placing a chair in the corner of our dining room (facing inward; not toward the wall!). Any time one of my children had a melt-down during their school work or the course of the day, I asked them to take a break. This meant they moved to the break chair until they decided they were ready to rejoin the group. Tears during math? Just take a break. Goofy noises after the 3rd warning during memory work? Take a break.
Sometimes Mom has to take a break, too.
Then, when you've had time to assess your behavior, pray a little, and readjust to the activity at hand, you're always welcome back.
Try it. You'll love it.
3. Run drills
Drills are basically the gameification of obedience. Decide on one thing your kids could use practice with. For my crew, it's sitting in chairs. (Something only a homeschooler would say!) So we run chair-sitting drills. I set a timer, and whoever can stay in their chair doing school for the entire 10 minutes without getting up or falling out--yes, a real struggle for my kids--gets a reward. Maybe I will call them by whatever name they choose for the next hour (brace yourself for MasteJediSupremeRuleroftheUniverse), or I will excuse them from one of their chores.
The next day, we practice for 20 minutes, and so on, until we have mastered the art of staying in our chairs.
2. Be consistent
Ok moms, I know you're on auto-pilot right now. I know that mediocre is considered a win this time of year. Gone are the days of browsing Pinterest looking for all the fun things you'll do; I know you just want to survive.
But if you can muster all your energy, narrow your focus, and commit to follow through on every. single. thing. that leaves your mouth, your attitude will improve, your kids' morale will improve, and life will get easier. The reason for this is a chemical in our brains called Dopamine. Dopamine is the check-the-box hormone. When we set a tangible goal for ourselves and we reach that goal, Dopamine rewards us with a moment of euphoria. So if you say to your kids, "If you finish school by 2:00, we'll go to the park," and then life happens and you back-pedal out of it, your brain will rebel against the absence of the promised Dopamine, and depression will set in. On the other hand, if you follow through, Dopamine will make you and your kids high on life.
It's worth noting that negative follow-through is just as important. If, in the above example, they don't finish their work and you go to the park anyway, because Mama needs some fresh air, then there's no Dopamine because the reward is not earned. Of course there is a place to give unearned gifts to your children--don't get me wrong!--but if you're trying to teach self-discipline, what you need is consistency.
1. Make recess your favorite subject
If you take no other advice from this post, take only this one. It's my number one recommendation to moms when I speak at conferences. Make recess your favorite subject. And I don't mean send the kids outside so you can drink your coffee in peace; I mean go outside and play with them! Have that pillow fight. Jump in puddles. Wrestle. Be your old silly self and listen to their sweet laughter. I know it means your coffee will get cold for the 14th time. But it'll be worth it, I promise.
The more you lower yourself onto their level, participate in their version of fun (think how our Savior condescended for us!) the more they will trust every word you say. When they see that you share their love of Legos, and you understand how preferable Legos are to Latin, then they respect that you must really know some secret about Latin's importance to which they are not privy yet. They'll feel in their bones that you are actually for them.