Chasing Happiness: 7 Steps to a Happier and Less Anxious Child (Part One)

Anxiety may be a part of many children’s lives, but it doesn’t have to be a huge, permanent and perpetual part. You as a parent have a number of ways to help your anxious child switch his or her focus from thoughts or situations that bring anxiety to those that can bring joy.

This three-part series, “Chasing Happiness,” will show you seven steps you can start to take TODAY to help put the relaxed happiness and confidence back into your anxious child.

While you cannot simply quash out parts of life that make your children anxious, you can actively fill the other parts with activities, situations, thoughts and other good things that make both you and your children happy. Filling your lives with more joy will leave less room for anxiety, fear, depression and those other nagging feelings that can leave you staring terrorized at the ceiling all night.

Let’s start with three quick tips that can help alleviate anxiety from your and your children’s lives.

1) Focus on the positives.

Focusing on the positive, rather than the negative, may take a little mental training, but with enough practice it can become second nature for you and your children. Let’s use the proverbial spilt milk as an example. Your kid knocks over a milk pitcher and immediately you start screaming about the mess, the fact that you just mopped, and the time it’ll take to clean up when you’re already running late for work and school.

Your day has suddenly become a hell hole and shall remain that way for both you and your child unless you switch your mode of thinking.

Rather than reacting in anger, frustration and all those other negative feeling that come with spilt make, try to look at the positive aspects of the situation. The pitcher did not break. There’s still enough milk left for cereal. Your kid gets a quick lesson on mopping the kitchen floor as he or she helps you clean up the mess. And at least it was white milk, not chocolate.

Any given person, place, thing or situation has both positive and negative elements in it, or at least what we perceive to positive and negative. It’s up to you to choose which one gets more attention in your head. Here’s a hint: you’ll be happier focusing on the positive. Now relay this lesson to your kids.

How do it:

Don’t fret; the lesson does not have to include spilling milk on the kitchen floor every morning. Start with something as simple as asking your kids every night what they enjoyed most about their day.

Once they realize that question is going to come at them every night before bed, they will consciously start to focus on positive things throughout the day. After all, no kid wants to leave their parent hanging without an answer to such a fun question!

Clever quote to hang on your fridge: At least the spill wasn’t chocolate milk.

2) Kill off the ‘shoulds’

Nothing confuses and distresses a person more than suffering from a big slate of “shoulds.”

The “shoulds” come into play with the mindset that you or your kids “should” be thinking, feeling or doing something just because, well, you should.

Your kid should join the soccer team because every other kid on the block is doing it. You should eat at bistros every Saturday because that’s what’s expected of upwardly mobile professionals. You should go out, get drunk, and make a fool of yourself every New Year’s Eve because that’s what everyone else does.

Do all these shoulds even make you or your children happy? If not, then cut them out.

Here’s where you can get into even deeper trouble by engaging in an activity you believe you should be doing, hating it, but then telling yourself you should be happy doing it. Your mind can have a field day with this one, with negative thinking snaking its way into your brain.

It tells you there must be something wrong with you since you should be enjoying whatever it is you hate doing. It says you should know things you have no way of knowing. It tells you to run for help since you must be warped as you’re not “should-ing” your life in the proper manner.

Kill it swiftly. Kill it now.

How do it:

One helpful tool for killing off the shoulds is simply asking yourself: “Who says?!”

Who says you should prefer a raucous New Year’s Eve falling sideways into traffic when you’d prefer pizza, a DVD, your cocker spaniel and your kids? Who says your kid should enjoy soccer just because Sally and Tommy and Brianna are playing?

Exactly who came up with this ridiculous list?

Despite the zillions of shoulds that invade our world, no author has firmly stepped forward to take credit for all this mayhem born from the senseless set of “rules.” That means you and your children do not need to follow them.

Clever quote to hang on your fridge: Discover you and then just be it.

Please note the quote comes with two caveats.

Caveat No. 1: The above quote is actually the easiest thing in the world. It can also seem dang near impossible.

Caveat No. 2: If you can pinpoint the exact origin of a particular should, chances are it either came from: a.) an advertisement that said you “should” buy something, or b.) or people who had the same shoulds drummed into their own heads generation after generation with no explanation as to why the should is a should in the first place but they mindlessly passed it down anyway. Eeek!

3) Stop grabbing for the external stuff.

Retail therapy. Working ourselves to the bone for more money to buy a bigger house, another car, a new boat. America is immersed in a black hole of materialism thinking all sorts of external possessions are what will really make us happy. We need more stuff!

Here comes the cliché example of the divorced dad who showers his children with gifts because he simply doesn’t have the time or inclination to actually spend a day with them. He thinks he can buy their love with new bicycles, strappy sandals, the latest iPod.

Even if retail therapy works for amassing quite a shoe collection and can lift spirits for a few minutes, once the thrill of the new stuff wanes, we are back exactly where we started. We’re still seeped in misery, or at least unhappy, but now we have a whopper of a credit card bill to boot.

Besides, all work and no play not only make for a dull boy, it also breeds anxiety, headaches and time away from our family.

If you think back to moments that truly made you happy, chances are it was not the stuff at all. Sure, a happy outing may have involved a new boat, but it wasn’t the boat that made the activity happy per se. The joy came from the family time and togetherness, enjoying each other’s company and living in the moment. You could have done that for free on the shore.

How to do it:

Spending time with your kids can always be free. You don’t need an expensive round of miniature golf, a pizza palace video arcade, or a trek to Disney Land to enjoy the company of the ones you love. Grab a book, your kid and go read beneath a tree. Make hand puppets out of paper bags. Play a game of cards. Throw a ball around the yard. Quality time, connections and togetherness come from your heart and soul, never from your wallet.

Clever quote to hang on your fridge: Hugs are free.

This post is part one of the three-part series “Chasing Happiness”, click here to view the rest of the series.