Where Every Family Matters

Want Happy Kids? Protect Their Toddlerhoods

Research shows that happy, optimistic children are the product of happy, optimistic homes, regardless of genetic makeup. Simplifying childhood is the key.

In the go-go world you live in with your Littles, caught between iPads and sippy cups, it's easy to lose sight of what's really good for your kids during the growing up years of their lives. One thing that's for certain: making solid connections with parents and with others is an important aspect to what helps kids live happy, healthy lives day to day.
    "A connected childhood is the key to happiness," says Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (Ballantine; 2003). If busyness and lack of quality time make you feel like you're not in touch with a daily, healthy rhythm for your family at home, you can be sure your kids are experiencing this too, and it's time to simplify. Kids thrive when they have the time and space to explore their world in addition to a sense of connectivity to you and others.


The best way to promote your child's emotional well-being is to build up his sense of connectivity — to you, family members, friends, neighbors, caregivers, even pets. For your littlest children, this can go a long, long way.
    "If a child has just one person who loves him unconditionally, that's the closest thing he'll ever get to an inoculation against misery," Hallowell says. The early years of a kid's life make for the easiest period for parents to build connectiongs. Your child needs and depends on you for so much when he's small: hold him as much as possible, respond to his emotions with empathy, read to him, eat with him, snuggle and laugh together — but don't keep him to yourself.
    Provide opportunities for your child to form relationships with many others — and encourage those relationships. Take him out for play dates, have play dates at your home, go to activities, to Sunday school, to family events, to community happenings. And be a mom or dad who reaches out to others, modeling that it's good and healthy to talk to ofriends and enjoy relationships in the world.
    Further connections are built when you allow your young child to help you at home starting from an early age. Chores are good for kids, they make a kid feel needed. Allow your little one to clear his own plate, attempt to make his own bed, pick up his own messes, help you put down silverware on the dinner table, etc. Children who consider themselves necessary to the family are less likely to feel adrift when what they want is to feel needed.



You know all of that push back you get when you try to change your child from doing something he really loves to doing what you need to do and RIGHT NOW? Your child is pushing back for a reason: not enough play time. For little kids, a little bit of play time in the morning is like a tiny sip of water when you're parched. Can you possibly be over-scheduled? Is he taking the brunt of that by constantly riding along in his car seat? Is there a way you can STOP the busyness and make a point of building-in more time at home together?
    And if you have plenty of time at home, be very careful about how much freedom you give your little one on a device — it should not take up important play time.
   "I'm very concerned that screentime is substituting for active playtime," says CatherineTamis-LeMonda, a psychologist who studies play and learning in babies and young children. When you set effective screen-time limits (tarting from an early age) you'll help your child to learn joy in the present moment as he's playing.


• Allow playtime without instruction.
• Keep fewer toys and encourage imaginative play.
• Learn to say "No" to too many activities. It's OK to say "No" to soccer practice; "No" to yet another activity that leaves no time for play. Remember, childhood is not something to "get through," it's something to enjoy with your child.
• Don't rush your child! Build in plenty of time if you have to go from point A to point B. 
• Listen to your child — it's the best way to create an open, honest and connected relationship.
• Enjoy being out in the world together — whether it's rainy, or sunny, you can take a walk together and explore the world or the back yard.

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.