Stop Trying To Make Your Kid Happy

Ariel Swift

Parents, when asked what they want for their child, respond over and over that they want them to be happy. Do they realize they are making their lives SO MUCH HARDER unless they get a bit more specific?

Parents. You can't make your kids happy. It isn't possible. It isn't possible for you to make ANYONE happy, and I hope I'm not the first person to share that news.

If you take a look at all the science on "happy" our understanding and definitions are starting to edge away from being "in a constant state of cheer."

Happify does an excellent job of breaking down what happiness is not:

It's not feeling good all the time.

It's not being rich or affording everything you want.

It's not a final destination.

But these things are typically how most people frame happiness.

If you stop and think about what a parent's job entails, forming happy children is not the point.

Understanding the six things that help children thrive in their surroundings is a great start to looking at the role parents have the power to play. I go in-depth on episode 11 of A Swift Moment Podcast. The six things are basic safety, connection to others, autonomy, self-esteem, self-expression, and realistic limits. However, if that all feels overwhelming, how about a smaller list from one of my favorite books.

In the novel Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, two characters talk about the prospect of becoming a parent, and they share the lines, "All that children need is love, a grown-up to take responsibility for them, and a soft place to land." I appreciate the brief list and how it can be molded to encompass the six needs.

However, the phrase "take responsibility for them" is I think the hardest part of parenting. It means setting guidelines, boundaries, and following through. It means showing children how to become adults and not resort solely to telling. It means setting appointments, bedtimes, and organizing their nutrition. It means doing a thing when you don't want to because it is the right thing to do. Moreover, it means saying no to something that would make your child, "happy."

In my world view, it also means taking care of ourselves and finding ways to strive toward our happiness, so they see that we, as individuals, are the only people capable of creating that state of being.

Giving toys, treats, late bedtimes, more screen time, or whatever our children want when they ask for it ends up being a temporary hit of joy. What we know about chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine is that our bodies want more of them once they're gone. How are we teaching our kids to get their hits of natural feel-good chemicals?

If we have only put into place examples of how to experience joy through tangible objects, food, and unhealthy behaviors, what happens when our kids are out in the world on their own? How do they learn that contentment is closer to happiness than euphoria?


Making kids happy is not a reasonable goal for parents. So please let it go.

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