We all know the phrase “Happy wife, happy life.” But it turns out Mum’s happiness may be one of one of the secrets to raising successful, emotionally healthy children too.
Secret #1: Make mum happy
A recent study by the UK-based Marriage Foundation and the University of Lincoln looked at 13,000 couples with a child born in 2000 or 2001. When their child was nine months old, they were asked how satisfied they were with their lives.
Fast-forwarding 14 years, those same couples were contacted again to see how they were faring. Were they still together? How emotionally healthy was their child, now a teen?
It turned out that mum’s happiness was much more significant than dad’s on every measure studied. It was twice as important a factor when it came to keeping the marriage together. But perhaps more surprising it was also twice as important in predicting the mental health of sons.
It turned out that mum’s happiness was much more significant than dad’s on every measure studied.
Teen girls’ mental health was also strongly linked to their mum’s happiness - but not at all to that of their dad.
Secret #2: Show, don’t tell
A mum of a ten-year-old tells the story of a stand-off she had with her son when he was just a toddler. She’d promised him a trip to the playground as soon as he packed away his toys. The child refused to budge from the couch.
So far, so familiar. But in this case, the mum completely refused to give in … or even move. Her son cried. He tantrumed. He eventually fell asleep on the couch, exhausted. When he awoke, more than an hour later, his mum was still sitting on the floor, surrounded by the toys.
“Pack them away,” she repeated firmly for the hundredth time, “and we’ll go to the playground.” He did - and off they went. The incident has gone down in family history as a defining moment.
And no wonder. Research has shown that when parents model desirable behaviours - in this case, persistence - the impact is far greater than if they simply talked about them. In a nutshell, kids are more apt to do as you do, not as you say.
Secret #3: Get engaged with learning
The notion that education is best left to the professionals couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many mums and dads understand that preschoolers thrive when parents read to them, help them learn their letters and numbers, and sing songs and nursery rhymes.
But research shows parental engagement with learning is vital for older kids too. Going on excursions, volunteering in the classroom, actively monitoring homework and test results makes a big difference to academic achievement right through your child’s schooling career.
Parental engagement in a child’s learning is a startlingly significant factor in their later achievements, regardless of the school they attend or the teachers they have.
Secret #4: Let there be music
A raft of international research confirms it: learning an instrument builds confidence, bolsters brain power, boosts social skills, cultivates patience and discipline - and of course encourages creativity and self-expression.
And before we forget: it also improves memory.
Secret #5: Don’t avoid the discomfort zone
The desire to make everything easy for our kids is understandable. But the research increasingly shows that building “mental muscle” is a case of no pain, no gain.
Constantly smoothing the way for them - whether micromanaging friendships or providing instant gratification via screens to forestall the dreaded cry “I’m bored!” - deprives kids of the opportunity to stretch and grow, to gain confidence in their ability to tough things out on their own.
Successful, resilient kids - who grow into successful, resilient adults - are those who have been allowed to sit with their own discomfort, and to find their own way out of it.