How to Be Happier: 16 Tips for Being a More Lighthearted Parent.

man and toddler walking on seashore

One of my Twelve Commandments is “Lighten up,” and I have a lot of resolutions aimed at trying to be a more lighthearted parent: less nagging, more laughing. We all want a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous, atmosphere at home—but we can’t nag and yell our way to get there.

Tips for Young Children:

Here are suggestions I followed when my children were younger (and most of them I still try to follow, even now):

1. At least once a day, make each child helpless with laughter.

2. Sing in the morning. It’s hard both to sing and to maintain a grouchy mood, and it sets a happy tone for everyone—particularly in my case, because I’m tone deaf and my audience finds my singing a source of great hilarity.

3. Get enough sleep yourself. It’s so tempting to stay up late, to enjoy the peace and quiet. But morning comes fast. Along the same lines…

4. Wake up before your kids. That means I can get myself organized, check my email,  and get some work done before they get up.

5. Most messages to kids are negative: “stop,” “don’t,” “no.” So I try to cast my answers as “yes.” “Yes, we’ll go as soon as you’ve finished eating,” not “We’re not leaving until you’ve finished eating.”

6. Look for little ways to celebrate. My “holiday breakfasts” and April’s Fool Day pranks are a big source of happiness. They’re quick, fun, and everyone gets a big kick out of them.

7. Repetition works. A friend told me he was yelling at his kids too much, so he distilled all rules of behavior into four key phrases: “Keep your hands to yourself”; “Answer the first time you’re asked”; “Ask first”; and “Stay with us” (his kids tended to bolt). I often use school mantras: “Sit square in your chair;” “Accidents will happen,” “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset” (i.e., when cupcakes are handed out, you don’t keep trying to switch).

8. Say “no” only when it really matters. Wear a bright red shirt with bright orange shorts? Sure. Sleep with your head at the foot of the bed? Fine. Samuel Johnson said, “All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.”

9. When I find myself thinking, “Yippee, soon we won’t have to deal with all these Legos,” I remind myself how fleeting this is. The days are long, but the years are short.

Tips for teenagers

Once my children became teenagers, I added more items to my list for lighthearted parenting:

10. Try to join one of their enthusiasms. If they love a TV show, watch it. If they love a sports team, follow it. If they love a type of music, listen to it. It will give you a shared interest—and show that you respect their opinion. I’ve watched New Girl and Claim to Fame because my daughters love those shows.

11. To reduce conflict, as much as possible, let them arrange their personal space to suit themselves, with whatever decorations or level of messiness they want. I’m a simplicity-lover, and my younger daughter is such an abundance-lover that it stresses me out. Oh, well!

12. Find the humor in situations as much as possible. (Which includes being willing to laugh at myself.)

13. Figure out whether your child is an Obliger, Questioner, Upholder, or a Rebel, and adapt your parenting style accordingly. Read more about the “Four Tendencies” personality framework here. If you want suggestions about how to apply the framework as a parent, look here.

14. Don’t take on the horrible job of rousting a teenager out of bed in the morning. Use technology or some other system.

15. Be quick to point out a child’s strengths and gifts. “You’re so resourceful,” “You have such an original imagination,” “I wish I had your ability to remember names and faces.”

16. Say hello and good-bye with genuine attention and warmth, and if possible, add a hug or some kind of physical touch. I’ve found that this is such a quick, easy way to add more tenderness and attentiveness to the atmosphere of my home.

Have you found any good strategies to cut back on the shouting and to add moments of laughing, singing, and saying “yes”?

Updated May, 2024. Originally published April, 2009 on The Happiness Project Blog.



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