As mothers, we are often questioning ourselves. Am I raising a happy kid? Does my child have everything they need? Do I give them enough? Am I home enough? Am I present enough? Do they have a big enough house or enough toys? Am I failing in providing them with everything they need to have a happy childhood?
These are questions I battled with often, especially in years past. There are so many resources out there that make me feel like I am not enough. Well let me tell you, mama, you are enough. You are exactly the mom your child needs. After a lot of reflection and a lot of experimenting, I discovered my kids did not need all the things I thought they needed to be a happy kid. In fact, a lot of what they needed to be happy was the complete opposite of what I was providing.
Here are what kids need to be happy:
This may be a “well duh” statement, but I’ll put it out there anyway. Kids need basic necessities. They need clothes, food, and shelter. Most of us get this one.
Kids need sleep. I was the pushover mom that would let my kids stay up late to finish a movie or to read just one more book. While this practice is ok some days, more than anything, kids need their sleep to be happy. They need time to let their brains rest and grow. They need to get the required amount of sleep for their age.
I know, this can be a struggle some days. I have one child that practically puts herself to bed every night. The other one though….she is my night owl. Every night is a battle, so we have to incorporate enough time for that battle. I have found if I start the bedtime routine early and have her in the bed about 15 minutes before her actual bedtime, she almost always goes to sleep faster. I’m not sure why it works, but it does.
Discipline and routine
Kids need discipline and a routine to be happy. Kids turn to their parents for all the answers because the world can be scary and uncertain. We are their certainty. We are what holds them steady. Help them realize how the world works by showing consequences for actions and give them a routine that provides them stability in knowing what the next day will bring.
A chance to create
Kids need a chance to practice creativity. Every child is different, but give them outlets to practice their creativity. Turn off the tv. Take away the toys that play for them. Let their imaginations run wild for a bit. Let them be bored.
Break out the paint, the crayons, or a cardboard box and some markers. Build a fort with couch cushions and blankets. Play dress up. Kids are amazing when they don’t have technology doing the imagining for them!
Time with nature
Breathing fresh air can make anyone happy, it can especially make for a happy kid. I always know when my kids are at each other’s throats that there is no better medicine for their own minds and their relationship with each other than to send them outside to play. Get your kids outside. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment building in a bustling city or if you live where it snows half the year. Find a place where they can go and dress them for all weather, but get them outside!
I have a friend that told me a Finnish saying, “There is no bad weather, just bad clothes.” Don’t let the weather stop your kids from getting outside. Nature has a beautiful way of making us happy.
Activities you can do with your child outside can be:
- playing tag
- taking a hike
- sidewalk chalk
- bike riding
- playing ball
- reading under a tree
- sledding or a snowball fight
- planting and tending to a garden
The possibilities are endless!
Kids need a chance to get up and move. Kids do not need video games. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a fun family night playing Xbox Kinect Dance Party, but my kids don’t NEED this. They need a chance to run, ride bikes, or do whatever physical activity brings them joy.
You can be their best example by getting regular physical exercise too. Take a family walk after dinner. Talk and enjoy each other while doing it. Put your devices down and move your bodies!
Kids need a chance to be independent! Thank goodness for my husband who forces me to stop being a border-line helicopter mom. He encourages me to step back, and let them fall off their bikes. My husband tells me not to fret when we are hiking and the rocks we are climbing over are really large. He lets my kids be strong, independent kids, and I love that he has instilled that in me so that I too can watch their sense of independence and confidence soar. Raise a confident and happy kid by letting them be independent in their choices and activities.
A happy kid needs a chance to learn and grow. They need life skills, and the best way for them to get these life skills is to challenge them. Every time we push our kids to do something outside of their comfort level, they surprise us. Sure, there is some whining along the way, but by teaching them perseverance and tenacity, we are teaching them how to fail and keep going.
We recently when on a hike with my 5 and 6 year-olds. We didn’t know how long the hike would be exactly, but after looking at a map, we guessed maybe three miles. It was five miles….straight up a hill in the Rocky Mountains. In fact, the entire last mile was incredibly steep and made me more than a little tired. My kids were tired. They were frustrated, and they were ready to give up. We almost let them, but something told us we were very near the summit. Just as my six-year-old was expressing that she had enough, we saw the summit. They both picked up their pace, scaled a giant rockface, and stood at 10,500 feet with the biggest, proudest grins on their face!
Push your kids. The feeling they get after accomplishing a challenge is amazing to watch!!!
Love and physical reassurance
Give your kids love. Hug them often. Kiss them often. Even on the worst of days when you are in tears and think you have failed as a mom, give your babies the love they need. There is something so wonderful about snuggling your child and slowing down to enjoy the moment. We live in a rushed world. Take the time every day to love and give that physical reassurance. It will do you both well!
Be a present parent. That’s hard to do some days. I get it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading something on my smartphone and then getting aggravated at the “mama, mama, mama” chant coming from my child. Be present. Your work can wait until they are occupied or asleep. Your social media feed isn’t more important that the time spent with them. It’s easier to say than do, I know. I’m trying all the time to practice being more present. I even had to take a smartphone detox more than once in my time as a parent so far.
Challenge yourself. Pick one night a week where your phone is stored in another room and play a game together or watch a movie together. Read a book out loud every night before bed. Do something with your kids without the distractions. It will bring you as much joy as it brings your child.
With all the things a child needs, it seems pretty basic. They need basic necessities, love, and time with their parents. They need a chance to grow, create and be challenged. However, there are so many things we parents strive to give our children that they really don’t need to be a happy kid.
Things your kids don’t need to be a happy kid:
Excessive extracurricular activities
Sure, challenge your kids. Get them involved in physical activities through sports. However, do this with intention. Your kids don’t need extracurricular activities nearly every day of the week. They don’t need to spend their entire weekends off from school getting transported from one activity to another.
Your kids need time to be kids. They need time to run around with their friends in the backyard or time with their parents to eat dinner and talk about their day. Kids need time for encouragement and connection. They don’t need five nights a week practicing ball and then spending an entire Saturday on a field. They need you.
This one got me. I grew up with my parents counting every penny. When I had my own children and was making a fairly good income, I figured I had to shower my kids with every toy they wanted or “needed”. They did not know what it was to go without. Now, we didn’t buy them a toy every time we went to Target. In fact, I don’t think they even knew where the Target toy aisle was located for many years.
Yet, every Christmas and every birthday, my children were covered up in new toys. The number of toys they received was over the top, and I was unapologetic about it. Then, as I started to practice living a simpler life and dipping my toes into the concept of minimalism, I learned my children did not need more toys to be happy kids. In fact, more than anything, they needed the space and the time to enjoy the toys they truly enjoyed.
They were overwhelmed by the mess of a cluttered home as much as me, and cleaning up brought them to tears because they had no idea how to clean up so much stuff. It is ok to give your kids less. Hear me again, it is ok. Your kid will still be a happy kid.
Ask your kids how they want to spend their day. My guess, at least if they are young, it will not involve playing with their toys. It will be asking you to play something with them. In the end, they want you.
Your kids need clothes. They don’t need that many clothes. Before we transitioned to living a simpler life, my kids had enough clothes to not repeat an outfit in an entire month! Funny thing though, they wore the same clothes week after week. Kids like consistency. They don’t need fancy clothes. They need clothes that move with them and let them play.
A big house
I used to think my family needed a big house. We needed each child to have their own room, a playroom, and a big backyard. While we had those things at different times in their childhood, we also lived in places where we didn’t have them. For nearly a year, my family of four lived in an 800 square foot apartment, with a dog and a cat. We had no official yard, but that time in the apartment forced us to realize something. My kids could share a room, and they loved it! We probably spent more time outside than ever because we needed the space. One of our favorite activities was to take daily walks around the neighborhood. We enjoyed the apartment complex’s pool, and we learned to enjoy the toys that fit in our space without missing the ones we had before we moved.
You don’t need a bigger house to raise a happy kid.
A fancy school
Oh, the guilt I felt when I toured a school once, fell in love with it, and then realized after crunching the numbers over and over and over again that there was no way we could ever afford it. It had all the glitter and shine of a well-funded, well-educated school. There were daily swimming lessons. Four-year-olds were reading full sentences unassisted. It was magical!
My kids eventually went to that school, but they only went for one summer where they could capitalize on the daily swimming lessons. We made the tuition work for a couple of months before transitioning full time from daycare/preschool to public school. Let me tell you, there was no reason for me to feel guilty for not being able to send them there earlier. Was the school amazing? Yes! However, were my children any less well off because they didn’t get to spend years there? No!
I spent time with my daughter reading every night. I was diligent about it. She was reading at four years old. I spent time teaching them how to swim every weekend when I was off from work. They were swimming before starting kindergarten. My kids didn’t need a fancy school. They needed me. I am their best teacher.
A child does not need technology to be a happy kid. Video games, smartphones, tablets, and talking toys are all amazing in what they can do. Some can even be argued as educational. Let me tell though mama, your kid does not need technology to be a happy kid! In fact, the more time our kids spend on technology, the less likely they will spend moving their bodies, making social connections with their friends, or broadening their creativity. Encourage your kids to put the electronics away! Push them to go outside. Push them to create.
Raise a happy kid, not a well-funded kid
A happy kid does not need all the “fancy” stuff out there we put pressure on ourselves to provide them. They need us, their parents. They need love, basic needs and a chance to grow mentally and physically. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the “Pinterest perfect mom”. Just be their mom. Give them a chance to have a childhood that isn’t dependent on electronics and excess things. Let them live simply.