How to Raise Happy Kids: 10 Steps Backed by Science

By
March 31st, 2014

Eric Barker-When you ask parents what they want for their kids, what’s usually the most common reply? They want their children to be happy.

the well-being of children is more important to adults than just about anything else–health care, the well-being of seniors, the cost of living, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. More than two-thirds of adults say they are “extremely concerned” about the well-being of children, and this concern cuts across gender, income, ethnicity, age, and political affiliation.

Now there’s tons of info on raising smart kidsand successful kids, but how do you raise happykids?

Sometimes it’s hard to balance what’s best for children with what makes them happy — but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Happier kids are more likely to turn into successful, accomplished adults.

…happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance. On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriage.

So looking at the science, what really works when it comes to raising happy kids?

Step 1: Get Happy Yourself

The first step to happier kids is, ironically, a little bit selfish.

How happy you are affects how happy and successful your kids are — dramatically.

Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.

And this is not merely due to genetics.

…although the study did find that happy parents are statistically more likely to have happy children, it couldn’t find any genetic component.

So what’s the first step to being a happier you? Take some time each week to have fun with friends.

Because laughter is contagious, hang out with friends or family members who are likely to be laughing themselves. Their laughter will get you laughing too, although it doesn’t even need to in order to lighten your mood. Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing themselves.

Step 2: Teach Them To Build Relationships

Nobody denies learning about relationships is important — but how many parents actually spend the time to teach kids how to relate to others?

(Just saying “Hey, knock it off” when kids don’t get along really doesn’t go far in building essential people skills.)

It doesn’t take a lot. It can start with encouraging kids to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.

This not only builds essential skills and makes your kids better people, research shows over the long haul it makes them happier.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who were trained to provide compassionate, unconditional positive regard for other MS sufferers through monthly fifteen-minute telephone calls “showed pronounced improvement in self-confidence, self-esteem, depression, and role functioning” over two years. These helpers were especially protected against depression and anxiety.

Step 3: Expect Effort, Not Perfection

Note to perfectionist helicopter parents and Tiger Moms: cool it.

Relentlessly banging the achievement drum messes kids up.

Parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids.

The research is very consistent: Praise effort, not natural ability.

The majority of the kids praised for their intelligence wanted the easier puzzle; they weren’t going to risk making a mistake and losing their status as “smart.” On the other hand, more than 90 percent of growth mind-set-encouraged kids chose a harder puzzle.

Why? Dweck explains: “When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”

Step 4: Teach Optimism

Want to avoid dealing with a surly teenager? Then teach those pre-teens to look on the bright side.

Ten-year-olds who are taught how to think and interpret the world optimistically are half as prone to depression when they later go through puberty.

Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”

She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:

  1. Are more successful at school, work and athletics
  2. Are healthier and live longer
  3. End up more satisfied with their marriages
  4. Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety

Step 5: Teach Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait.

Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success.

A simple first step here is to “Empathize, Label and Validate” when they’re struggling with anger or frustration.

Molly: “I am SO SO SO MAD AT YOU.”

Me: “You are mad at me, very mad at me. Tell me about that. Are you also feeling disappointed because I won’t let you have a playdate right now?”

Molly: “YES!! I want to have a playdate right NOW.”

Me: “You seem sad.” (Crawling into my lap, Molly whimpers a little and rests her head on my shoulder.)

Relate to the child, help them identify what they are feeling and let them know that those feelings are okay (even though bad behavior might not be).

Step 6: Form Happiness Habits

We’re on step 6 and it might seem like this is already a lot to remember for you — let alone for a child. We can overcome that withgood habits.

Thinking through these methods is taxing but acting habitually is easy, once habits have been established.

How do you help kids build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:

  1. Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way.
  2. Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.
  3. One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower, especially for kids. Solidify one habit before adding another.
  4. Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.

Step 7: Teach Self-Discipline

Self-discipline in kids is more predictive of future success than intelligence — or most anything else, for that matter.

Yes, it’s that famous marshmallow test all over again. Kids who better resisted temptation went on to much better lives years later and were happier.

…preschoolers’ ability to delay gratification–to wait for that second marshmallow–predicts intelligence, school success, and social skills in adolescence. This is at least in part because self-discipline facilitates learning and information processing. In addition, self-disciplined kids cope better with frustration and stress and tend to have a greater sense of social responsibility. In other words, self-discipline leads not just to school success and sitting nicely at the dinner table but to greater happiness, more friends and increased community engagement.

What’s a good way to start teaching self-discipline? Help kids learn to distract themselves from temptation.

One way to do it is to obscure the temptation–to physically cover up the tempting marshmallow. When a reward is covered up, 75 percent of kids in one study were able to wait a full fifteen minutes for the second marshmallow; none of the kids was able to wait this long when the reward was visible.

Step 8: More Playtime

We read a lot about mindfulness and meditation these days — and both are quite powerful.

Getting kids to do them regularly however can be quite a challenge. What works almost as well?

More playtime.

Most kids already practice mindfulness — fully enjoying the present moment — when they play. but kids today spend less time playing both indoors and out… All told, over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours per week of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play…

Playtime isn’t just goofing off. It’s essential to helping kids grow and learn.

Researchers believe that this dramatic drop in unstructured playtime is in part responsible for slowing kids cognitive and emotional development… In addition to helping kids learn to self-regulate, child-led, unstructured play (with or without adults) promoted intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves.

No strict instructions are necessary here: Budget more time for your kids to just get outside and simply play.

Step 9: Rig Their Environment For Happiness

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all very much influenced by our environment – often more than we realize.

Your efforts will be constrained by time and effort, while context affects us (and children) constantly.

What’s a simple way to better control a child’s surroundings and let your deliberate happiness efforts have maximum effect?

Less TV.

…research demonstrates a strong link between happiness and not watching television. Sociologists show that happier people tend to watch considerably less television than unhappy people. We don’t know whether TV makes people unhappy, or if already unhappy people watch more TV. But we do know that there are a lot of activities that will help our kids develop into happy, well-adjusted individuals. If our kids are watching TV, they aren’t doing those things that could be making them happier in the long run.

Step 10: Eat Dinner Together

Sometimes all science does is validate those things our grandparents knew all along. Yes, family dinner matters.

This simple tradition helps mold better kids and makes them happier too.

Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They got better grades. they have fewer depressive symptoms, particularly among adolescent girls. And they are less likely to become obese or have an eating disorder. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school. And these associations hold even after researchers control for family connectedness…

Sum Up

Here are the ten steps:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them To Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimism
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment For Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together

We’re often more open to new methods when it comes to work and careers, but ignoring tips when it comes to family is a mistake.

The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.

- Harold B. Lee

I hope this post helps your family be happier.

How dangerous is sleep deprivation, really?

By
March 12th, 2014

By Alia Hoyt, upwave.com

(upwave.com) — Everyone has a night here or there where sufficient sleep just doesn’t happen. (Just ask anyone who’s ever been to Vegas… or cared for a newborn.) But a lot of people miss out on getting significant shut-eye on a regular basis. In fact, aboutone in five American adults are sleep deprived.

The rumor: Sleep deprivation is harmful and can even be life-threatening

If you’ve ever come close to nodding off in the boardroom or behind the wheel, you know that the effects of sleep deprivation can range from embarrassing to downright terrifying. But are we really putting ourselves and others at risk, however inadvertently? And if we are sleep deprived, how do we fix it?

The verdict: Sleep deprivation really is dangerous for your body and mind

I hate to break it to you, but sleep deprivation really can be life-threatening.

“Sleep deprivation is the single most dangerous aspect of any sleep disorder, because you have no idea that you are compromised cognitively, physically and emotionally,” says sleep expert and upwave reviewer Michael Breus.

Sleep deprivation affects three distinct areas of life. The first, and probably most life-threatening, is reaction time. People who operate heavy equipment or drive any kind of vehicle are likely to have dulled reaction times when sleep-deprived, making them more prone to accidents. In fact, recent research has found drowsy driving to be just as risky as drunk driving. So you might want to think twice before staying up late to catch the end of that football game.

Cognition — how we think, retain memories, process information and make decisions — is also negatively impacted by sleep deprivation. “It’s easy to miss a fine detail when sleep-deprived,” explains Breus. “We often don’t put information together correctly.” This may not seem like a big deal… until you mess up that major report for your boss, or forget what time your flight home is!

Emotions are also greatly heightened by lack of quality sleep, says Breus. Everything from anger to sadness to frustration all get blown out of proportion, making a potentially bad situation that much worse.

So, what can you do to fix the problem? Well, you could just try going to bed earlier. But a late bedtime is hardly the only cause of sleep deprivation. Others include stress, environmental factors (a snoring spouse; an excessively warm bedroom) and poor diet (heartburn; excessive alcohol; too much caffeine).

Also, there’s no one “ideal” amount of sleep. Some people function just fine on seven hours, whereas others (like me) need a heftier nine. “The minimum number of hours is six,” says Breus. “Anything less is, in all likelihood, sleep deprivation.”

To identify your ideal time for lights-out, Breus suggests counting backwards about seven and a half hours from your required wake-up time. “If you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off, you’ve nailed it,” he says. By the same token, if you rise feeling refreshed, you’re right on the money. If not, you’re probably sleep-deprived, which can lead to those cognitive, reaction and emotional issues we’ve discussed.

upwave: How to sleep 7.5 hours a night

I know that sleep often seems negotiable, but our bodies and minds really need the consistency of a quality night’s rest to prepare and reboot for the coming day.

So take an honest look at your sleep hygeine. Chances are, you can make a few changes to get more sleep. Of course, if problems persist, you may want to consult your doctor. We all need to be at our thinking, feeling and reactive best in order to thrive and stay safe. In most cases, a little extra shut-eye will get you there! Sleep tight!

This article was originally published on upwave.com.

Study: Committed Couples Use Condoms Less Often

By
March 12th, 2014

Alexandra Sifferlin

Only 14% of couples in a serious relationship use condoms regularly, and only a third of couples in casual relationships.

Couples in committed relationships are less than committed to using condoms.

According to a new study, couples in casual relationships regularly used condoms only 33.5% of the time, and only 14% of the time in serious relationships.

Dutch researchers surveyed 2,144 men and women, and asked them about their sexual activities with their four most recent sexual partners. They found that condom use among heterosexual couples is influenced more by the type of relationship they have than other factors such as gender.

Irregular condom use was more common as relationships progressed and people were together for longer periods. Interestingly, the more highly-sexed couples were, the less likely they were to use condoms, whether in serious or casual relationships. For instance, couples who experimented with sex acts like sex-related drug use and anal sex were more likely to report irregular condom use. Couples of the same ethnicity were also less likely to use condoms.

The researchers believe that public health messaging for condom use could improve by focusing on what type of couples are less likely to use them, Reuters reports. But the study was criticized for not defining the parameters of “irregular use.”

The study is published in the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections.

How Facebook Could Sabotage Your Blind Date

By
March 6th, 2014

Think twice before you cyberstalk—seeing someone online may make face-to-face interactions more stressful

We’ve all been guilty of Facebook stalking – looking up strangers who we might be meeting face-to-face soon – a blind date, a potential employee, or even the friend of a friend. It’s supposed to make us feel a little more

comfortable and prepared when the real-life meeting actually takes place.

Or maybe not. Especially if you have mild social anxiety. In a study involving female college students, Shannon Rauch and her colleagues found that surprisingly, a Facebook introduction tended to make some people more nervous during the face-to-face meeting.

Rauch, an assistant professor of psychology at Benedictine University in Arizona, and her colleagues recruited 26 undergraduates and asked them to take a social anxiety test. A week later, the team invited to participants to what they called a facial recognition test – the students were hooked up to a monitor to measure changes in how well the skin in their hands conducted electricity (the more aroused a person is, the better the skin conducts electrical signals) while they looked at either pictures of people or actual people in the testing room. There were four groups: one saw only a person’s Facebook profile page, another saw only a person in the room, another saw a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room, while the final group saw a person in the room and then perused her Facebook page. For the live encounters, both the participants and the visiting person were told not to interact or talk to one another, which limited the experience to just being in the person’s company.

The students who first viewed a person’s Facebook profile and then saw the person in the room showed higher arousal scores than those who simply saw the person, without a prefacing Facebook encounter. That surprised Rauch a bit, since most of the data on digital social interaction suggested the online experience could help to calm the anxiety of meeting someone for the first time in person. “Intuitively we all thought it should help to pave the way a little bit,” she says of her findings, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

Instead, the Facebook priming made them more aroused. Rauch says the study just measured arousal, and not levels of stress hormones so she can’t say whether the participants were more anxious. It’s possible, for example, that the students were just more excited by the face-to-face encounter, which is a natural response to seeing someone. But Rauch believes that the change was more negative than positive, since it raised arousal, instead of calming it, which is what a more positive effect of the Facebook encounter would have had.

The effect was strongest among those who scored higher on the social anxiety test, which suggests that the real-life encounter was still more arousing than the online one – something that previous studies have shown. Online interactions may feel more safe and comforting to those with social anxiety, since they have more control over the situation.

The results go against the idea that online experiences can be a helpful way for some people with social anxiety disorders to gradually get used to real life encounters. “If your goal is to calm yourself for the face-to-face encounter, Facebook is probably not the best strategy,” says Rauch.

Why? The initial online experience could start a process of rumination that leads to expectations and comparisons that the real life encounter may not meet or fulfill. That’s supported by a growing number of studies that show regular Facebook users don’t feel good about themselves, because they are constantly comparing themselves to their peers – on looks, accomplishments and goals.

Rauch hopes the work starts to question conventional wisdom about how social media helps, or even harms, social connections, and plans to study the effect in more detail, by giving participants more choice and control over the real-life interaction, and giving them more opportunity to plan the encounters. “We’d like to start using physiological data to start challenging notions of how social media affects social connections,” she says

Angry outbursts may raise heart attack, stroke risk

By
March 6th, 2014

Getting really angry might be more dangerous than you think.

A new study found people who experienced severe anger outbursts were more at risk for cardiovascular events in the two hours following the outbursts compared to those who remained calm.

“The relative risk was similar for people who had known pre-existing heart disease and those who didn’t,” says Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The study was designed so that each patient was compared to his or her own baseline risk. “A person with pre-existing heart disease or cardiovascular disease, the absolute risk they are incurring is much greater than (that of) a person without cardiovascular disease or risk factors,” Mittleman says.

“If we look at somebody at higher risk for having cardiovascular events, and they get angry multiple times a day, this can lead to 650 extra heart attacks per year out of 10, 000 a year,” he says. “When we look at a person who is relatively low risk, but if they do have these episodes of anger fairly frequently, we estimate there would be about 150 extra heart attacks out of 10,000 a year.”

Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight and having diabetes are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. An estimated 17 million people worldwide die of cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study published Monday in the European Heart Journal was a data analysis looking at nine studies where anger and cardiovascular events were self-reported over nearly two decades.  The study found a 4.74 times higher risk of MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack) or ACS (acute coronary syndrome, where the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood) following outbursts of anger.

“Anger causes our heart rate to increase through the sympathetic nervous system and causes our stress hormones to become elevated (the fight or flight mechanism),” says Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “We breathe faster, all of which may trigger undesirable reactions in our blood pressure or in our arteries.”

This disruption may mean the heart or the brain doesn’t get the blood and oxygen they need resulting in a heart attack or a stroke, she says.

Researchers suggest more needs to be done to come up with effective interventions to prevent cardiovascular events triggered by anger outbursts. The American Heart Association suggests regular physical activity, finding a way to relax or talking with friends to help reduce stress and anger.

Mittleman suggests the best way to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke during an angry outburst is to lower your overall baseline level of risk – exercise, eat healthy and don’t smoke – and then find ways to cope with stress and anger.

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