consistent parenting advice
consistent parenting advice

Happy Child

What Makes a Happy Child?

Helping Our Children Express Their Feelings

happy child

Parents often say that all they want is for their children to be happy and healthy. As parents, we do have quite a lot of say in our children's state of health, barring sickness, disease and accidents, of course.

We can be aware of their needs around a nutritious diet, fresh air and exercise, their sleep requirement, warmth, clothing and protection.

But how about what makes a happy child?

Happy Child - What about how they actually feel?

There is a great deal we as parents can do to help our children to acknowledge and express their feelings - to become a happy child.

happy child I have written here about children and anger, and especially about our response to our toddler's angry rages.

Unless we, as parents and adults, are able to acknowledge and express our own feelings, whether happy or sad, we tend to have difficulty with our youngsters when they express theirs.

Our natural inclination is to parent as we were parented, and for a great many of us that means to help our children to 'manage' their feelings appropriately. By 'manage', we usually mean that we would like them to act in ways that don't embarrass us or them socially, or press too many of our own buttons emotionally.

I know parents who find their children's enthusiasm just as difficult to handle as their sadness, pain or anger. These parents have their own emotions under tight rein and are offended by overt displays of emotion, whether positive or negative.

Where are you up to when it comes to expressing your emotions?

Happy Child - Helping Our Children Express their feelings:

A wonderful trick is to help our children to befriend their feelings.

To do this well, we need to befriend our own feelings too. One of the wonders about parenting is that we can learn while we teach how to have a happy child.

Many years ago, I came across a wonderful book by Brian Knight called Your Feelings are Your Friends first published back on the seventies. His purpose for writing it was to encourage good, healthy, joyful feelings right from the start of a person's life.

Brian wanted to create a language in which feelings are friends and where learning to know and accept ourselves is an exercise in self love and honesty. The ideas I gleaned from this astute book are often in my thoughts today as I write.

  • Know Yourself
Expressing feelings begins with the idea of 'know yourself". This means pausing and asking ourselves, "Right. What is it I'm feeling? Why am I angry? Why do I want to cry?"

However, so many of us do not want to know what it is we are feeling. In fact our lives are often constructed in such a way as to avoid ever confronting ourselves or our feelings. As children our real feelings have been stifled and suppressed, and we have learned adaptive behaviors in order to be acceptable. We learn from a very young age not to 'feel' too intensely, how to conform, and especially, not to cry.

  • Accept Yourself
Imagine if you were taught to listen to your feelings and to recognize and name them. For instance, I feel sad. I really feel like crying. Now imagine if you were taught to accept that is how you feel and to allow yourself to feel it. Really feel it.

Accepting yourself means accepting responsibility for your feelings. It means not criticizing them or condemning yourself because you are wrong, or inappropriate, or stupid, or for feeling them. It means accepting them as your feelings.
  • Be Yourself
Having admitted the feelings and accepted them, to be yourself means to express them. It is the expression of the feelings that makes all the difference between being whole and happy, or miserable and ill. It is the expression of feelings that brings about the cure of a person's emotional pain, physical hurts, and mental anguish.

It is feelings that are suppressed, repressed and bottled away that cause people to become: cold, distant, defensive, bitter, resentful, angry, spiteful, depressed, guilty, anxious, contemptuous, distrustful, and shameful, and dozens of other feelings.

Happy Child - HOW to Express our Feelings?

Nature has given us two wonderful ways in which to do this. One is talking and the other is crying.
  • Talking
Talking about how we feel is really one of the most adequate ways of expressing feelings. It takes courage, timing, opportunity and a good listener. The listener is important here.
Read here about talking out our feelings.
  • Crying
happy child Crying is a natural way of releasing stress from our bodies. Those, for whom crying comes easily, often remark about how much better they feel after a good cry. But for many, there is much fear associated with letting go, shame about being seen to cry, or a life time of suppressed tears that just will not come.
Read here about allowing your tears to flow.
  • Journalling
A proven method is to get into the habit of keeping a feelings journal. Not only is this completely private, but it helps you to be gentle and kind to your self while allowing you the time to observe. Writing in it daily is a wonderful way of getting to know your feelings more clearly.
Read about journalling here:

Happy Child - Children who cannot Express their Feelings:

Therapy with animals and writing as expression - I received this letter from a reader and believe it gives such helpful information about children who cannot feel or express their emotions, that I thought I would share it with you all. Thank you, Lindsey.

Hello Helen,
I was reading your page on the Happy Child, where you talk about recognising and being able to express feelings.

My older daughter (of 4 kids in total) has ADD and anxiety disorder, and as a child she couldn't recognise or express her feelings. happy child
She had a lot of therapy with animals which helped her, as the animals (dogs and horses) could recognise her feelings and that helped her gain awareness of them, but she still had difficulty expressing them, especially if they were 'negative' feelings, like fear,nervousness or feeling ashamed, etc.

I really cannot stress enough how much the therapy with animals helped her. We have a cat, two dogs, a rabbit, a guinea pig and a pony, and she looks after all of them - this from a child who was terrified of anything that moved.

One way which we found around that problem was for her to write everything down - she literally couldn't talk about it, the words got stuck in her throat, but she could WRITE about it. We nearly always use that way of initially dealing with difficult issues for her now, first in writing (notepad, MSN, etc) and once she has put it down in writing, she can usually talk about it easier. She is 14 now, but we first used the writing technique when she was about 9.
Regards, Lindsey.

Lindsey is the editor of , a website about gardening with children and creating gardens which encourage them to spend time in nature. Gardening with children is not just good for their physical health, but also their emotional well-being.

More articles in the Happy Child series:
consistent parenting advice Emotional Intelligence - What is it?
Having emotional intelligence means not only recognising your emotions but acting on them reflectively and rationally. It also involves your ability to feel and express a whole range of feelings and to understand your resistances, boundaries and projections while moving toward emotional wholeness.

Working with Emotional Intelligence
Here are some useful steps to take in working with emotional intelligence. If this is new to you, be kind, gentle and patient with yourself as you open to different and more vigorous ways of thinking and being.

Social Competence - developing social intelligence
Social competence is learned by children through observation and participation. Children learn social competence from how their parents treat them, and how their parents treat others. Then they put it into practice on each other.

Building Emotional Intelligence and Resilience
We need to be able to step back, allow ourselves the time to feel our feelings and to look for the messages they convey to us. We need to understand why we feel in particular ways and what these feelings mean for us. Then we are able to change negative emotions into positive ones.

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