Your Child’s Happiness: Whose Job Is It?
Let your child be responsible for their happiness.
Posted December 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- When parents take responsibility for their child's happiness, the child does not learn that their happiness is ultimately up to them.
- Temperament influences happiness. For some, it is vibrant, full of laughter and joy. For others, it is quiet fulfillment in creative tasks.
- Gratitude is the best antidote to the entitlement that results from parents' feeling responsible for their child's happiness.
- Find your own sources of happiness. Be kind, patient, and loving, and let your child discover what makes them happy.
You want your child to be happy, right? You feel like a good parent when you see them smiling, laughing, having fun, and feeling successful. Some parents feel it’s their responsibility to make that happen.
But no. Your responsibility is to give your child what they need to make their own happiness, but they have to take it from there. It’s your job to make sure they have the basics–food, shelter, affection, and clothing. It supports their best development if you also provide them with your plentiful patience, loving attention, as well as opportunities for play, exploration, stimulation, and learning.
If you want more for them than that–happiness, for example, and every other kind of success and fulfillment–your child needs to learn how to make that happen for themself. When you see it as your job to make them happy, they learn on a deep unconscious level that someone else is responsible for their happiness, which leads to blame and resentment as time goes by.
Happiness has many faces. For some, it looks like convention paints it: smiles, laughter, lots of friends, and good spirits. For others, it’s quiet fulfillment and solitary engagement in meaningful tasks. Your child’s temperament has a lot to do with what their personal brand of happiness will look like.
Some children are born cheerful and cooperative. It’s easier to feel you’re making that kind of child happy because it’s easier for them to find sources of pleasure in their everyday experience. But some children are innately more difficult and less positive. If you have a child with a more challenging temperament, you may be tempted to work extra hard to make them happy. Resist that temptation. Give them the basics they need to create a good life for themself and let them figure it out from there. Respect their right to not be cheerful and to find their own kind of happy contentment or not.
Make sure there’s time in your child’s life for boredom. If you overschedule your child, they won’t discover what it is they really want to do. If you rescue them from boredom or allow them too much time on technology, they may seem happier (or less unhappy) in the moment, but they won’t learn how to create their own lasting happiness. They’ll always be looking for distraction and will avoid asking the questions that lead to fulfillment and long-term happiness: “What do I want to do?" "What do I want to learn?" "Who do I want to spend time with?" and "What do I want to create?”
Is your child chronically sullen–listless, unhappy, complaining–unless you’re entertaining them or giving them what they want? If yes, your child may be using your desire to see them happy as a tool of manipulation. The sooner you stop working so hard and let their happiness be their responsibility, the sooner they’ll learn the essential life lesson that their happiness is nobody else’s job but their own. With that lesson comes freedom and the possibility of happy independence.
If you feel responsible for your child’s happiness, chances are your child feels entitled to your attention, gifts, and everything else you do for them to try and make them happy. A sense of entitlement makes happiness impossible.
The best antidote to entitlement and one of the strongest factors leading to happiness across the lifespan is an attitude of gratitude. Starting in early childhood, gratitude dissolves the dissatisfaction that entitlement breeds. Model what that looks like by being openly grateful to your child for their presence in your life and everything else you have and experience.
Maybe you can start a bedtime gratitude ritual, asking your child to name one good thing that happened that day. If your child resists doing that, make some special treat contingent on the gratitude activity. Let them know you’re serious about them learning to express their appreciation for all that you and others are doing for them. Gratitude should not be optional.
Feeling grateful changes a person’s brain chemistry. It shifts the focus from what’s wrong to what’s right, and grateful people find they have more and more to feel happy about.
You want your child to be happy. That’s a good thing, but they have to find their own path to getting there and ways of being happy. Don’t interfere with the process by taking responsibility for their happiness. Instead, be kind, patient, and loving; focus on all you and they have to be grateful for, and look for ways to be happy in your own life.