3 Ways To Raise Happy Kids

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Before starting college, I had some ideas about what I’d like to study, but it wasn’t until a couple years in that I found what I wanted to commit to: marriage and family studies.  I knew that what I was learning could be applied to both my current and my future relationships, especially my future family.  Growing up, I would say that I was generally a happy kid.  I got along with my parents, I had good friends, did well in school, was involved in extracurricular activities and active in church.  But if you had asked me then how I became that way–happy–I don’t know that I would have been able to nail it down.  However, through my coursework, and now through practical application (aka parenting), I’ve seen three ways parents can raise happy kids: building connections, setting limits and encouraging independence.

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So often, I hear parents joke around that they wish their kids came with a manual.  I’ve even said the same thing myself, especially when going through a challenging period of time.  And while each child is different, I know that a combination of connecting, limits and autonomy will help my kids develop into happy, healthy kids.

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Building Connections
Shortly after becoming pregnant with each of my kids, I felt a connection to them.  My husband on the other hand, didn’t feel connected to them until they were born.  But regardless of when you first feel connected to your kids, it’s important to recognize that each child has an innate need to feel connected, which causes them to feel loved.  For example, my daughter has never been much of a snuggler.  Even now, she’ll sit next to me or my husband when we are watching a show or reading a book, but she’s never wanted to really connect that way for longer than a few minutes.  But, one on one time and words of encouragement and affirmation go a long way for her.  She literally lights up. 

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

On the other hand, my son is a big cuddle bug.  He was more that way even as a baby and now loves to snuggle and hug and sit on our laps.  Additionally, if you can get him talking or telling a story, he loves to feel listened to.  When each child feels connected in the way that means the most to them, they feel loved.  If you’re not sure how your child feels love, I highly recommend the book The Five Love Languages for Children by Gary Chapman.

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Setting Limits
A strong parent-child connection is important because it builds the foundation for lovingly correcting our kids (aka discipline).  When we set limits, or rules, for our children we are teaching them self-control and establishing socially acceptable behavior.  Right now, my daughter is struggling to remember that her first instinct when things don’t go her way should not be to hit.  We are working with her to help her understand that there are other ways she can express her frustration, but that being physical is not acceptable.  We are teaching her that she needs to think before she acts and to think about how others will feel if she hits them (the golden rule).  As parents, it’s our role to be an example, follow through and maintain a strong connection with each of our kids.  They will (hopefully) recognize that the rules are there because we love them and want them to be happy.

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Encouraging Independence
Kids seem to have a built-in program for using some variation of the phrase “I want to do it by myself!”.  As they grow and learn more about their abilities, they want to test the limits we’ve put in place.  While this can be extremely frustrating as a parent, it’s helpful to recognize that their desire for autonomy (independence) is actually very useful as it will prepare them for future real-world responsibilities, as well as teaching about choice and accountability.  Obviously, we have to allow some degree of independence otherwise our children wouldn’t learn how to do anything for themselves.  My kids are still fairly young, but I try my best to allow them the ability to choose wherever possible and within reason.  For example, I will tell them what the weather will be like for the day and then allow them to choose their clothes.  I ask them what kind of fruit or vegetable they’d like with their lunch (giving them options).  Doing this helps my kids feel like I trust them to make their own decisions and gives them confidence in themselves.  In addition, I have to make sure that when there is an unwanted consequence to a choice they made, that they take responsibility for it and learn from it.

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Parenting is hard work.  I was just telling my husband the other night, “It’s so hard to feel like I always have to be on top of everything all the time!  There is so much to remember and so many things I need to teach them and it can be so exhausting.”  But the moments of joy–when your child puts into practice a concept you’ve been working on or they do they right thing even when they think no one is watching or they start on their chores without being asked or a hug for no reason–really do make this whole parenting thing so rewarding. 

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

As anyone who has been around kids can tell you, every kid comes with their own unique personality.  I love finding fun shirts for my kids to wear and graphic tees are some of their favorites.  When I saw these shirts from Cents of Style, I knew I had to grab a couple of them.  For my daughter, I chose the “Boys are EW”, although the “I believe in Pink” would have been perfect for her too.  My son is one of those funny, sweet, charming little boys and I got him a “Word to your Mother” shirt.  (I’m sure my husband will teach him all the words to Vanilla Ice’s song one day.)  My kids love their new shirts and I’m sure they’ll be wearing them for the rest of the summer.

Sometimes I wish my kids came with a manual on how to raise them!  But thankfully these tried and true principles for ways to raise a happy kid are there as a guideline.

Do your kids love wearing graphic tees?  If so, this weekend is the perfect time to snag some for Cents of Style’s Fashion Friday deal.  All their kids graphic tees are 50% off their lowest marked price, with clearance styles starting at less than $5!  Sizes range from 6 months all the way up to Youth XL (14/16) so there is something fun for all ages.  So go to Cents of Style, check out their kids shirts and then use the code KIDSTORY at checkout to take advantage of this deal, plus you’ll get free shipping!  This deal runs from 6/16-6/18

Have you seen these principles help you raise happy kids?

How To Use Role Playing In Discipline

Role playing in discipline is an effective technique that teaches kids confidence.  Learn more about how to use it by clicking the link.

Something you may not know about me is that I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies.  Basically this means that I took a lot of classes about marriage, family, parenting, child development, family finance, family systems and a million others in preparation to become a counselor.  I loved (almost) all of them and they’ve been hugely helpful for me as a parent.  Obviously I know that what I learned in these classes is the ideal and isn’t always achievable due to *ahem* human error.  But at the same time, I’ve also learned that many of the methods and techniques taught are useful even when circumstances aren’t ideal.  The one I want to talk about today is role playing.

In one of my behavioral classes, we learned about concepts like positive and negative reinforcement and how you can use each in parenting.  To be honest, I don’t remember all the technical terms or theories from this class.  But one that stuck with me is this: if you eliminate a negative behavior or response, you have to replace it with a positive behavior or response.

Let me give you an example:

Say you are trying to get rid of a bad habit such as chewing your nails.  You’ve tried putting gloves on, putting your fingers in hot sauce so it burns your mouth when you try and cutting your nails down super short.  Nothing works.  You’re still biting your nails.  Why?  Because you didn’t replace the bad habit with a good one.  Instead of simply trying to eliminate this habit or behavior so it no longer exists, you have retrain yourself with a new, more positive or acceptable behavior.  (A really easy replacement in this example would be to chew gum or put a paperclip in your pocket that you can fiddle with.)

So how does this work in discipline?

A while back I wrote a post about a practice that will change the way you discipline.  (Read more HERE.)  In it, I explain the method that we use for disciplining our kids when they are doing something we want them to stop (the negative behavior) and it works well for us.  But I was thinking the other day and realized that my husband and I weren’t taking the extra step of helping our kids understand what to do instead of the negative behavior.  They knew what they’d done wrong and why it was wrong but not what to do instead (the positive behavior).  This is where role playing comes in.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to help our kids learn how to respond in different situations.  Role playing is a technique you can use with your kids as they get older and can be applied to so many challenges they have, whether it’s bullying, saying no to drugs and drinking, confronting a friend about a difficult issue and so on.  Role playing gives them options for how to respond.   Role playing gives your kids confidence that they can handle situations they may not have encountered before because it feels familiar to them.

Role playing in discipline is an effective technique that teaches kids confidence.  Learn more about how to use it by clicking the link.

For example, when my daughter gets frustrated because her little brother keeps knocking down her tower and retaliates by hitting him, she gets sent to time out.  (Normally, she gets a couple of chances to stop her behavior, but I’m not going to give her another two opportunities to hit.  Again, read more about our method HERE.)  During her time out, she knows she is expected to think about why she got sent to time out and then tell me or my husband why she had to go to time out.  In the past, we would have finished off with something along the lines of “Hitting your brother is not okay.  It hurts him and makes him feel sad.” and then sending her on her way.

BUT we recently added the extra step I mentioned above: we help her think through what she can do if she’s faced with that situation again.  This helps her understand her options and recognize other behaviors that are acceptable.  Then we role play.

Role playing is pretty simple.  You recreate the situation that caused the issue in the first place, then when you get to the part where they reacted negatively, you stop and ask them “what could you do differently in this situation?”  Allow them the opportunity to come up with options for themselves.  There have been times when my daughter’s response has been better than the one I had in mind.  If they can’t come up with something, help them out with some ideas.  Then role play again with the new (positive behavior) replacing the negative behavior.  Depending on the situation, this could take a couple of minutes or it could take 10.

Role playing in discipline is an effective technique that teaches kids confidence.  Learn more about how to use it by clicking the link.

There are days when my kids have pushed my buttons and I’ve reached the limits of my patience.  I know there are situations where I’ve overreacted or sent the wrong kid to time out.  The time they are in time out is also a good opportunity for me to take a few deep breaths, maybe walk into a different room or step outside and think about how I could have responded differently.  And thankfully, kids are pretty forgiving.

The other day, my daughter asked my husband if she could play a game on his phone.  He said no.  In the past, her response would have been to get mad and possibly yell or stomp away.  But instead of all that, she just said, “okay, maybe another time” and went off to find something else to do.  I was totally amazed!  The conversations we’d had and role played actually stuck and she put them into practice.  (Not to say that this happens every time of course.)

So the next time your child misbehaves, think of it as an opportunity to help them learn more about acceptable behaviors.  Teach them to recognize their options and give them the confidence to deal with their daily situations in a positive way.  Take a few minutes to go through a short role play with them.  And remember that you’ll probably have the same conversations and the same role plays a few dozen more times until it sticks. *wink*

Do you use role playing with your kids?  What are the benefits you’ve seen or think you would see by using this technique with your kids?

One Thing That Will Change The Way You Discipline Your Kids

I remember when my daughter was almost two years old.  She started getting into more trouble, throwing more tantrums and lots of the word “no!” (from both of us).  My husband and I talked to family and friends and read a lot of books to try and decide what type of “discipline method” we wanted to use.  We wanted to make sure that we were united on our method so it didn’t matter who was disciplining our child, they would get the same treatment.

Here we are two years later and my son is now almost the same age as my daughter was when we first started looking at disciplining methods.  The only difference is that now we’ve had a little practice so it’s not as big of a challenge when we’re faced with the same tantrums. *wink*

So I’m going to let you in on the one thing that has made the biggest difference for us in the way we discipline our kids: follow through.
Before I talk a little more about this, let me take you through the typical process I use when I’m faced with my child acting in a way that isn’t ok.


My daughter is choosing to pick a fight with her brother over a toy that is his and that he was playing with first.

My actions: Watch to see if they are able to resolve it without me getting involved.  If so, no further action is needed.  If not, I give my daughter her first warning.

My daughter continues to fight with her brother.

My actions: Watch for a moment to see if they resolve it.  If not, I give my daughter a second warning.

My daughter is still fighting with her brother about they toy and pushes him.

My actions: Give my daughter her final warning and tell her she needs to go to time out.

She walks over to time out but does not sit in time out.

My actions:  I tell her to sit in time out or I will be adding time to how long she needs to be there.

She doesn’t sit in time out and continues to try and argue why she doesn’t want to go to time out.

My actions:  I add time to her time out and continue to add time until she chooses to get in time out.  Then I start the timer and do not interact with her until the timer goes off.  When the timer goes off, she comes to talk to me about why she was in time out and why time had to be added.  The time for discipline is over and she can continue playing.

If the same thing were to happen when my husband was home, he would follow the same steps.  You could also think about it as being consistent.  Obviously, it would be impossible to be consistent all the time, but I’d like to think we do this at least 80% of the time.

*Note: In case you’re interested in the specifics of the method we’ve chosen to help us discipline our kids, you can check out the book 1-2-3 Magic.  We’ve tweaked it a little for our family, but the basics are all there.

Another aspect of following through is asking yourself this question: If my child misbehaves and I give them the consequence for their actions, am I willing to follow through with it?  

I remember the week before we went to Disneyland, my daughter was acting a little extra naughty.  As much as I wanted to say, “If you don’t act nicely, we’re not going to Disneyland”, was I really going to follow through with that?  No.  So that’s when I had to rethink the consequence for her actions to something more appropriate to her behavior and something that I would actually follow through with.

As parents, we have to be committed to doing what we say we are going to do.  If we don’t, our kids will learn that they can act badly and not expect any consequences.  So if you are on your way to get ice cream and your kids are fighting on the way and you tell them they need to stop or you’ll turn around and go home, you better be sure that’s what you’re willing to do (even though you totally deserve that ice cream!).  If you tell your child they have to finish their chores or they don’t get to play with their friend, you have to follow through no matter what.  If our kids misbehave and we say there is going to be a consequence, they know it’s not an empty threat. (Obviously, I am assuming that none of you are abusing your children and that you are using constructive forms of discipline.)

When we are consistent in our parenting, it teaches our children that they are safe and secure with us.  They know we’ll follow through on the good stuff as well as the not so good.  It builds a strong foundation of trust and our children will know that we are there for them when life gets hard. When we discipline our children, we show them that we love them because we’re teaching them how to keep commitments, to be responsible, be accountable for their actions and learn the difference between right and wrong.  And as parents, isn’t that what we want for our children?

What helps you be consistent in your parenting?

Encouraging Positive Behavior: Warm Fuzzies Jar

Encouraging Positive Behavior: Warm Fuzzies Jar--a simple and effective way to encourage your kids to choose positive behavior.

About a year ago, my daughter, then almost 3 years old, started to act out a lot.  We couldn’t figure out why or pinpoint anything specific that could be causing it.  My husband and I spent a lot of time discussing what we should do and as we talked, we realized that she responded really well to positive reinforcement.  It’s not like we weren’t giving her positive attention.  We said “thank you” when she did something we asked and praised her when she did something well.  But we noticed that when we used specifics to communicate positive reinforcement, she would do more things to receive more praise from us and the “bad” things she was doing decreased.  For example, instead of just saying “thank you” when she followed directions, we would say, “thank you for being a good listener”.  When we noticed her being kind to her brother without being asked, we said, “you are such a good big sister to your brother.”  So while we noticed an increase in the kind of behavior we wanted to see, we also recognized that she is still a little girl, and little girls (and boys) sometimes need a little extra push to be good.

This is where we introduced the “warm fuzzies jar”.  A warm fuzzies jar is a tool we use to help our daughter physically see the good things she is doing in a very tangible way.  It is simply a container (we use a small mason jar) that we put in a visible place on the counter.  When she does something good, such as listening the first time we ask her to do something, taking the initiative to do something without being asked, being kind, etc., she gets a little pom-pom ball, or warm fuzzy, to put in her jar.  We have various sizes of fuzzies so if she did something really great, we’d give her a big fuzzy as an extra way to say ‘good job.’  When the jar got filled to the top, she received a small prize.  My daughter loves ice cream cones from our local grocery store and so we promised her her very own ice cream cone when the jar was filled to the top.  It took her about a month or so, but she finally filled her warm fuzzies jar and got her ice cream cone.  She was so happy!

Encouraging Positive Behavior: Warm Fuzzies Jar--a simple and effective way to encourage your kids to choose positive behavior.

The concept of encouraging and rewarding positive behavior isn’t new.  However, I think that sometimes we forget that kids are just that–kids.  They are still learning and developing.  We can’t expect them to just choose to be good without any kind of reinforcement.  It’s also important to be sincere and not go over the top with our praise.  Kids are really good at discerning sincere from insincere.  (They are also really good at manipulation, but that’s another topic for another day…)

One of the biggest reasons I like using the warm fuzzy jar to encourage positive behavior is because it helps me focus on the things my daughter is doing right and well and good.  I enjoy watching my daughter to succeed in something she’s trying to do better in.  And it helps me be a better mom by remembering that she is a little girl who is still learning how to be good.  I’ve noticed that when I’m looking for ways to reward her, that I see the positive and I don’t focus nearly as much on the negative.

Encouraging Positive Behavior: Warm Fuzzies Jar--a simple and effective way to encourage your kids to choose positive behavior.

If you think that starting a warm fuzzies jar for your kids would be helpful, here are a few things to keep in mind that will help the program run more smoothly:

  • Only reward positive behavior with a warm fuzzy.  
  • Do not take away warm fuzzies as a form of punishment.  You want your kids to associate the fuzzies with positive behavior and it will confuse them if you use the fuzzies as a punishment or consequence for negative behavior.
  • Let your kids decorate their jar/container.
  • Put the jar/container in an easy to see place on the counter (my daughter’s is in the kitchen).
  • Allow your kids to choose their fuzzy and put it in their jar/container themselves.
  • If you think using a different item to fill the jar would work better for your child, do it!  You could easily use plastic coins or marshmallows instead of fuzzies.
  • Sit your kids down and explain to them how the program works.  You can even role play to give them examples of behaviors that will earn them fuzzies.
  • As a parent, try to pay close attention to your child(ren) throughout the day and be quick to reward them.  This helps them remember what behavior is positive and earns them fuzzies.
  • I don’t recommend using warm fuzzies as a form of bribery, since the goal here is to help them learn how to behave positively on their own.
  • We started this program when my daughter was almost 3, so she was at a stage where she knew when she was doing something good or bad (in many cases).  I probably wouldn’t start any younger than around 3, but you could definitely modify this as your kids get older.  For example, if your child is motivated by money, you could reward them with coins instead of fuzzies.

One last thing I want to mention is that this program isn’t meant to be used indefinitely.  If you use it for too long, it won’t have the same effect on your child.  It is more of a short term tool (a month or two) you can use if you feel like your child needs a little extra motivation to work on their behavior.  For younger kids, the instant gratification of receiving a warm fuzzy is just as exciting as the prize they get at the end.  For older kids, the warm fuzzy might not mean as much, but the prize at the end may be what keeps them focused.

Encouraging Positive Behavior: Warm Fuzzies Jar--a simple and effective way to encourage your kids to choose positive behavior.

What programs/systems have you used to help encourage positive behavior in your own kids?