What makes a great childhood

Children and happiness: what makes a happy childhood?

We do a lot to help our children grow up happy. But sometimes we're not so sure we're doing it right. Tips from experts can help. Our guide to a happy childhood.

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Happiness is the "interaction with the outside world"

Scientists have discovered that there is a certain talent for happiness in the first few months of life. One child cries heartbreakingly as soon as it loses sight of mom, another continues to babble happily to itself. A third of children are born happy, a third quickly hang their heads and often and long quarrel with themselves and the world, and a third are neither particularly optimistic nor pessimistic. Nevertheless, according to the researchers, people generally experience anger and depression more than joy. We owe this rather sad trait to our animal ancestors: When we still lived in trees, fear, sadness or anger made the monkey family at the slightest noise immediately abandon even the most comfortable liana swing and get to safety. But neither animal heritage nor genes are fate. The "interaction with the outside world" is decisive for joie de vivre and happiness, says the happiness researcher, biophysicist and philosopher Stefan Klein.
Many positive experiences, the affectionate good-night kiss from mom, the pillow fight with dad, the kindergarten friend who waits in front of the door in the morning, the teacher, the "Cheer up!" says, can turn even a little dump into sunshine. Today we know: Happy adults have learned to deal well with emotions from an early age. According to the French psychologist Hélène Mathieu, happiness can become a good habit. For her, happiness is the best educational goal of all: "A happy child can develop his or her potential and make progress in his or her personal development."

How can you support your child on their way to a happy future?

1. Laugh together

Laughter is a great growth hormone. This is probably why children laugh an average of 400 times a day (adults only 15 times). Smiles and laughter make you focused, resilient and imaginative, say happiness researchers. The effect can be seen immediately: happiness hormones flow through every fiber of the body, the pulse beats faster, more evenly and more firmly, attention increases, and suddenly everything seems easier and things move faster.

2. Be optimistic yourself

Children of over-cautious and pessimistic parents are prone to dark thoughts, researchers have found. No matter how you feel, show your child how to accept stressful, uncomfortable, angry, sad situations and how to react to them in a positive way. "Leon doesn't want to play with you? Then you first do something without him, and later you ask him again."

3. Teach your child to control themselves

Blow off steam to feel good? That does not work. Anger, sadness, and anger don't go away when you let them flow, only when you control negative emotions. According to researchers, those who can control themselves are more optimistic and more balanced. Self-control is easier when agreements and rules are clear and reactions are predictable. Say "no" when you mean no and stick with it. Say "yes" when you mean yes - and then stick to it.

4. Acknowledge your child's idiosyncrasies

Lisa speaks without periods and commas, Jakob is as silent as Chief Silent Bear, Selma cannot sit still, Emil reads books as fast as others eat potato chips. Children are different. They are fine when their peculiarities are recognized and recognized by their parents. A shy child cannot simply be handed over to a kindergarten colleague to spend an afternoon there; it has to be introduced to people and situations much more carefully than a little whirlwind that plunges curiously into every adventure. As parents, we have to keep re-examining educational ideals: Do the goals we strive for suit our child, do they do justice to his or her development? Children change especially during the transition to puberty. A confident eight-year-old can become a 13-year-old who feels too fat and ashamed of her pimples. She may suddenly refuse to ring the neighbors' doorbell to borrow sugar. Then she feels secure and understood when mom or dad say: "Okay, then I'll go myself this time."

5. Give your child unconditional love

It's been 26 years since Anne got the first five on a math assignment. Brand new at high school, she had to experience that good grades in elementary school are no guarantee of success. But what Anne remembers even better than her amazement at these incredible five was her parents' reaction. The mother took her in her arms and cooked her semolina, the father brought his bookworm a book with him that evening. It was called "Beate, the Queen of Five" and was about a not so happy school career and a happy little girl. "From that day on I knew," says Anne of her feelings at the time, "that nothing can be as bad as my parents' love is strong." One of the most important ingredients for a happy childhood is that a child feels loved regardless of their achievements.

6. Make your child feel part of a whole

What do a trestle table, a deck of cards and a roast chicken have in common? They ensure cohesion. Children experience themselves as part of a whole when doing family work, playing board games or having dinner. Admittedly, with advancing age, the enjoyment of activities with parents diminishes somewhat - but teenagers also admire the living room, which is papered in a joint activity, with satisfaction. Children particularly like to have family traditions. "They give them a sense of identity," says family therapist Richard Eyre. The evening pillow fight, the big egg roast on Saturday morning, the Scrabble rounds on rainy Sundays: "Small everyday rituals may seem insignificant to us adults at first, but our children are attached to them," says Eyre.

7. Kiss your child often

Cuddle, cuddle, say: "I love you!" Tenderness - in words and in deeds - is good for children. Parents at every age have to find the right dosage anew: A kindergarten child enjoys physical contact without restriction. However, there are children, mostly boys, who prefer to romp around together over a quiet cuddle session, others prefer to get the kisses at home than in front of the buddies from the butterfly group. Some puberty cactus are happy to be content with a pat on the back.

8. Give your child appreciation

Tom hits the ball into the goal, Papa cheers on the sideline. Children need and enjoy the approval of their parents. If they get enough attention for what they do, know, can and do, they are much more cooperative and willing to get involved in the family. They are more interested in the siblings' hobbies and affairs, and lend a hand when the parents need help. In a strong family, nobody is left to fend for themselves - this feeling of being a child gives a lot of security and self-confidence.

9. Give your child moments of happiness

The experts agree that happiness consists of many small moments. Children are good connoisseurs of happiness. Because they savor the moment, live completely in the here and now. A plate of favorite noodles, a badminton match with mom, dad with the book on the edge of the bed, the long-awaited Playmobil police officer as a surprise gift, a late evening trip to the ice cream parlor - making children happy is not difficult at all. Especially not for us parents, because we know our child well enough to know what they are happy about, what they are enthusiastic about, what we can surprise them with.

10. Maintain a friendly tone

A friendly tone is part of a good family atmosphere. Parents don't just have to whisper, clear announcements should definitely be made in a clear tone. But unfriendly pick-ups, harsh commanding tones, sullen, harsh sentences, screaming about every little thing envelop family life in an ugly sound. "Parents should talk to their children softly, warmly and melodiously enough often," says child psychologist Ulrich Diekmeyer.

11. Support your child

Building a tree house, making birthday invitations, repairing bicycles - children can only achieve many goals if parents help, guide and support them. It is important to look carefully and to withdraw at the right moment. The first self-inflated bicycle tire, the self-nailed tree house bed are great success stories for little self-makers. Rule of thumb: Children basically want to be independent, so whenever they ask for it, they actually need help. With older children, helping can also mean paying for something. The pair of new basketball shoes, a skateboard, the little flower mini for the longed-for party. Parents do not have to and cannot go over their budget. But if you and your child think about how the purchase can still be organized (as a combined birthday Christmas present, from the flea market, with a mini-job as a babysitter for the neighbors), then take their wishes seriously. And that's a lot.

12. Make others happy

Children love to make others happy. Choosing a bouquet of flowers for mom with dad, baking a cake for grandfather, surprising little sister with a school cone on the first day of school - fun activities increase family ties and childlike joie de vivre.

13. Give your child time

The stormy embrace, kiss attack, scratches on the knee, outrage over the stupid Ben who stole the shovel - children's affairs for which the vacuum cleaner should rest briefly and the newspaper should be put aside. Children express their feelings spontaneously. Parents who just as spontaneously take the time to cuddle, to listen, cheer up, comfort, kiss along, are simply good for the little soul. In most cases, you can continue vacuuming after five minutes - because then your son or daughter will have something else going on.

14. Accompany your child through school

School is not in a good mood. Only 20 percent of the children surveyed stated in the ZDF study that they were happy there. School ends up shortly before the dentist's chair on the popularity scale! Homework is even worse than school days: a full seven percent of school children do it happily. But: nobody can avoid learning. This is what parents can do to ensure that childhood is still beautiful:

  • Maintaining contact with teachers, knowing how the child is doing with the subject matter and in their class.
  • Participate in school activities such as school parties, school concerts or theater performances. So that the school is also a place of joy and encounter.
  • Provide support quickly in the event of a learning crisis: inquire about remedial classes, help with homework, organize tutoring.
  • Do not scold, punish or cut back on leisure activities for bad grades.
  • Provide distraction and balance. Children who have fun in life learn better. Brain research has proven this in recent years.

15. Support your child

Anton makes cacti bloom, Moritz skates super well, Annalena rides like a cowboy, Jana bakes great butter cakes. Whatever a child can do, it should be supported in it. Younger people still need support in all their everyday skills: parents practice going to the bakery with them until they can safely go alone. They teach them how to swim, ride bikes and show them how to plant cress. Everything a child learns new increases their self-confidence. Older children have often already developed strengths in one area; they are sporty, musical, like to do handicrafts and paint. You should be given the opportunity to develop these strengths. "The joy and self-confidence that a child draws from success also strengthens it in other areas of performance, such as at school," says psychologist Urich Diekmeyer.

16. Demand something from your child, too

Cleaning the sink makes you happy! Maybe it doesn't look like the kid is scrubbing with a sullen face. However, education experts agree: Those who regularly take on small tasks feel valuable and important. He receives encouragement and praise, which further strengthens his self-esteem. It works best with help when a child has regular tasks that do not have to be constantly renegotiated.

17. Have confidence in your child

Eyes shut and go for it! Children need to explore their limits without being stopped immediately by anxious parents. Overcoming oneself triggers inner joy. Climbing a tree, mastering the way to school alone, jumping from the five-meter tower - a courageous child feels good.

18. Let your child go their own way

Pack your toothbrush, pack your backpack and set off. Hänschen klein goes out into the world. "And mom cried a lot," it says in the nursery rhyme. She shouldn't do that, because a child shouldn't have a guilty conscience when he forges his own plans and thus proves his independence.

19. Make good friends

Children need friends. In all studies on the attitude to life of adolescents, good relationships with their peers at every age group are at the top of the list. Anyone who supports their child in meeting other children, forging and maintaining friendships is doing a lot for their wellbeing.

20. Leave your child alone sometimes

Hannah drapes her loft bed with pink tulle, Karim declares two sheets to be an Indian tent, Simon's favorite place is the old wooden shed behind the house - children need a place to retreat. In the ZDF children's happiness study, 71 percent of those questioned placed their personal “secret place” at the top of their list of wellbeing. Children don't have to take a GPS cell phone with them to this place - they have to trust their parents! Children not only need unobserved space, they also need time for themselves. When they play, they often forget everything around them, they are completely at one with themselves. They then experience what the American psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "flow": the absolutely happy feeling of being absorbed in an activity.

21. Let your child be part of it

Can keep up. This is important for wellbeing. Especially for a child who still has to develop his or her individuality and is strongly defined by feedback from the environment. Families therefore cannot leave the mainstream completely outside: the television series that everyone of the same age is talking about should not be completely banned, even if the parents do not like it. When buying clothes, the children should be able to have a say and contribute their taste. When they experience that their parents basically want to enable them to participate in the world of their own age, they are often surprisingly willing to compromise.

22. Don't fulfill every wish