Children often remind us of the joy that can be found in the simple things but as parents we also influence whether or not they carry those values into adulthood. Which is why today, on the International Day of Happiness, we went to Ashley Manuel to seek his advice on how we can be a positive influence on our children in the happiness department.
Ashley is an Adelaide primary school teacher and founder of the mindfulness program Growing With Gratitude and he says there are a number of habits that help parents carve out happiness for their family. “The key habits that lead to happiness involve activities around gratitude, kindness, positive reflection, physical activities, mindfulness, empathy and service,” he says.
In fact, through studies completed in partnership with the University of South Australia, Ashley says they’ve found the following six steps really help to drive each of these key lessons home for children.
1. Be clear
Whether you are a teacher or parent, the important thing is to give children clear explanations. “Start by teaching children explicitly what gratitude, kindness and positive reflection and so on actually are so the kids have a clear idea,” he says. “You can do this, with gratitude for example, by discussing different words for gratitude, such as thankfulness. Then talk to them about what they are thankful for and try and lower the bar from being thankful for possessions to being grateful for water, food, family. The older the kids get, the more in depth you can go.”
2. Model what you teach
Children learn a lot of their behaviours and habits from watching others – especially you! The most important thing for parents to do is to practice what they preach – teaching kindness by being kind to others, looking for the positive side of a situation rather than dwelling on the negative, and choosing to be happy even when times get tough. Ashley suggests parents make use of a gratitude jar that takes a prominent place in the home. The idea being for children to see their parents write down things they are grateful for and place it in the jar as a visual reminder of the many things they have to be thankful for.
3. Make time
When trying to change habits or introduce new ones, parents need to be deliberate in setting aside time, at least in the beginning until habits become part of your every day life. “You have got to consciously practice it, make time for it, make it a part of your daily routine and really cultivate it,” Ashley says. “It doesn’t require hours and hours, it can be in short two to 10 minute blocks, where you set up family time allocated to encouraging habits of happiness.”
4. Be consistent
Whether you embrace a daily time slot or not, consistency is important. “It has to be on a regular basis, whether it is daily or four to five times per week, to really build that habit and make it a part of who you are and really teach us and our children to be happy,” Ashley says. “Generally kids are happy but as they get older they are going to start to come up against different issues and challenges. If we actually teach children this at a young age, it is only going to keep them in good stead as they get older.”
5. Make it fun and engaging
To make happiness habits stick the activities can’t feel like chores. “When we talk about cultivating habits of happiness, it really needs to be fun and engaging,” Ashley says. “For example, getting children to write down three things they are grateful for is a great activity but through our research children have told us they found doing this every day to be boring. To have that positive effect, you really need to have variety to bring the fun and engagement.”
6. Offer perspective
Having an open conversation with children can help parents present different perspectives. “The real key component of learning these habits that create happiness is to reframe things and put things in different perspectives,” Ashley says. “So when things come up, for example, little Johnny might have said something to put little Greg down. Greg could take it in two ways, he could let it ruin his day or he could look at it from a different perspective and think, ‘Johnny doesn’t normally talk to me like that, he is normally really friendly and at the end of the day I am actually really lucky because I do get to go to school and it’s really not that bad, I am okay.'” That’s not to say being frustrated or angry is bad but if we have a choice to be happy or sad, most of us would choose happiness. We can show kids that often they have a choice to be happy or sad depending on how they choose to look at things.