Well-intentioned parents often try to foster happiness by giving their kids pleasurable experiences. Yet what children really need is to learn how to create and sustain joy on their own, says Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., a noted child and adult psychiatrist and coauthor of the bestselling Driven to Distraction. In his new book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, Dr. Hallowell, an instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, outlines five things kids need most to build a lifetime of self-esteem and confidence. They are:
- Connections. Feeling rooted gives children a foundation of security. Children need unconditional love from one or both parents and benefit when they have close ties to their extended family, feel part of their school, and help care for pets.
- Play. Make sure your child’s free time isn’t too programmed and regimented. Open-ended play, in which children can invent scenarios and solve problems by themselves, helps them discover their talents and use their own resources.
- Practice. When kids find out what they’re good at, they’ll want to do it again and again. But sometimes you may have to do some gentle nudging to ensure that your child sticks to an activity and experiences a sense of accomplishment.
- Mastery. From practice comes mastery. When children achieve a skill — whether it’s learning to tie their shoes, play the piano, or build a birdhouse — they’re further motivated to tackle new challenges. And that leads to a can-do attitude.
- Recognition. Approval and support from one’s parents, teachers, and peers for a job well done reconnect children to the wider world. When kids think what they do affects their family, classmates, and team, they’re more likely to exhibit moral behavior and, ultimately, to feel good about themselves.
Fortunately, one step leads naturally to the next and the cycle is self-perpetuated, explains Dr. Hallowell. You can lay the groundwork at an early age. Give your child these five key qualities, he says, and you will greatly increase her chances of leading a joyful, meaningful life.