We all want our children to be happy. We want them to be well adjusted, do well in school and have a good group of friends.
The problem is this: we can never make another person happy.
In the case of parenting, trying to make our children happy is really a lose/lose situation. The truth is, the more you try to make your child happy the less happy they will be.
Children need structure, limits and rules. They thrive on this; it ultimately makes them feel safe and secure and happy in the long run. But they don’t like rules; on the surface it makes them very,very unhappy. They don’t like being told to go to bed when they don’t feel like going to bed, or leaving the park when it is time to leave the park. Teens don’t like not being able to go to the party that all their friends are going to. Parents have to impose these rules multiple times a day and most kids don’t take this lying down. (Although, some easy going kids do). Almost everyday you have to make children feel sad, (take a bath, not eat that sugared snack) to help them feel safe, secure and ultimately happy, healthy and clean.
As parents, we need to change our goal from making our children feel happy to something more substantial, cultivating authentic happiness.
Authentic, true happiness stems from feeling capable and competent. Life is tough, knowing that you are able to handle whatever life throws you, makes you feel, happy, safe and secure. Helping children feel that they have it within them to manage life’s big and little problems is the ultimate gift we can give them.
As Jewish parents, to boost our children’s feelings of competence and security, we need to also teach our children that Hashem loves them, and every problem that comes there way, can be an opportunity to grow in their midot, dveykut, and to make themselves better, stronger people.
This seems like a tall order but it needs to be done. Here are some simple ways to help us do just that:
1. Role modeling:
Kids are watching our every move. To teach children to feel competent, we need to model ways to deal with life’s stresses and troubles calmly. So, the next time the washing machine breaks, dinner is burnt, or you are stuck in traffic, you need to stay calm. Look at it as an opportunity to work on the midah of patience within yourself. (sorry, it is tough but it will rub off on your kids!). Taking deep breaths, counting to ten can all help. If that fails, you can always say the following:
2. Gam Zu L’tova:
Gam Zu L’tova (roughly translated, this is also for the good)is one of those great phrases that should be used often. When the washing machine breaks, dinner is burnt or your stuck in traffic, saying out loud (so your kids can hear you) Gam Zu L’tova, helps everyone recognize that there is a silver lining to every difficult situation. Telling stories at the Shabbos table can also highlight this important Jewish philosophy, that everything that happens is ultimately from Hashem and is for the good.
3. Solution oriented thinking helps kids feel competent:
In my house, we often use two phrases, that help teach kids solution oriented thinking:
“We don’t accuse we focus on solutions.”
“Our family if a family that focuses on solutions.”
When the freezer is left open by mistake or someone forgets to do their chores, someone will say: “It’s a good thing this family doesn’t accuse and we only focus on solutions!”
When the washing machine breaks, dinner is burnt, and we are stuck in traffic, I try to say the above out loud. It models the following for children: We don’t need to wallow in the problem. It is better to just move on to thinking about the solution, what needs to be done to solve the problem. That could be calling the repairman, ordering in pizza, listening to your favorite playlist as you wait out the traffic.
We can and need to change our focus from making kids feel happy all the time to helping them develop a feeling of competence. It is really the best way to raise our kids.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.