Family Matters - August 2008
If You’re Happy and You Know It…
By Molly Brown Koch
In a television commercial, an adorable little girl in a pink tutu emerges
victorious from the bathroom. She jumps up and down and, along with her mother,
claps her hands over her success at toilet training. Perhaps her first. Mom
ought to memorize the picture of her child's glee and satisfaction over "a
job well done" as a reminder of the vital role success plays in a child's
We may not think of toilet training as anything more than the end of the
endless stream of diapers, but it seems to me that it is more. Here was the
little girl's first awareness of herself as a capable person. She will want to
repeat her success, especially because it met with her mother's approval and
But it is also important for her to see herself as capable. She is learning how
to value her own accomplishments. This is how she gets to accept her
specialness. And to top it all off, her triumph in the bathroom made her happy.
So this brings us to the question of what makes children happy. For some, such
as the little girl in the pink tutu, it’s the sense of accomplishment (and
pleasing her mother). For others, it is having good friends, while others are happy
when they discover new ideas or facts. For most children, it is the time they
spend with attentive parents.
For many children, happiness seems to hinge on getting the latest toy or
gadget. The problem with that is it is short-lived. Children tire of toys, and
electronic gadgets are often outdated even before the bill is paid. Computer
games are fun to play, but the child is happiest when he or she wins—and there
is an accomplishment to boast about.
Yes, we want our children to be happy, but is it our job to make them happy?
For example, do we feel we're supposed to make our children happy when they are
sad? What's so bad about sad? Don't children have the right to feel the full
sweep of human emotions?
Instead of trying to happy them out of it, we need to help them learn how to
handle sadness. And, when they do learn how to handle sadness on their
own, they'll be well on their way to being happy again because they did it on
We can and should comfort our children, but not so excessively that they are
robbed of the chance to nurture themselves—a blueprint they will need
when they are out on their own. We can also show them how their sad feelings
can lead to having sympathy and compassion for others who are sad.
Are we supposed to make our children happy by entertaining them when they are
Some parents are glad to drop everything and spend time with their restless
child, which can be good. But not all of the time. Parents should also be
mindful of their child's need to find ways to entertain him or herself.
Shouldn't we try to make the angry child happy? It would certainly make us feel
One thing we ought not to do is
try to humor him or her out of being angry. Children have a right to be angry
and, by our acceptance of it, we help them accept themselves in their worst
Let's take a cue from the
Constitution of the United States, which does not guarantee its citizens happiness—just the
freedom to pursue it. Just think of what it would take for the government to make
each one of us happy!
We, too, can give our children the
freedom to pursue happiness. We can give them a safe place to live, where joy
happens, where they are loved, nurtured, accepted, and respected, where their
goodness is cultivated, and where we bring out the best in them. Then, we can
leave the rest up to them.
After all is said and done, there is a way you can contribute to your
children's happiness. Perhaps the best way of all. Be happy yourself; it's
contagious. Then show them how to take delight in the little things, how to
make the best of bad situations, and how to enjoy the work of your own hands. Fill
your house with laughter and fun, sing with them, dance with them, cherish
them. Walk in the park with them, talk with them, listen to them, support them,
reach out to them. Be happy they are your children. That ought to do it.
When the late opera star Beverly Sills was asked how she could be so happy when
she had two disabled children, one whose deafness precluded her ever hearing her
mother's beautiful voice, Sills replied, "Even if I cannot be happy, I can
In or out of the opera, Sills was a star. BC
Molly Brown Koch is the author of 27
Secrets to Raising Amazing Children, published locally by Sidran Press. Her book
recently received the National Mom's Choice Silver Award.
© Baltimore's Child Inc. August 2008