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Emotional Development in Early Childhood: How to Raise Happy Kids

Wire your kid’s brain for happiness with these 6 tips for emotional development in early childhood, and set your child up for a content life.

Emotional Development in Early Childhood: How to Wire Your Kid’s Brain For Happiness

Wire your kid's brain for happiness. Image shows two laughing children doing handstands on grass.

If I’d stopped to think, really think, about how tough parenting would be before I’d started a family, I wonder if I’d ever have taken that big step. I don’t just mean the practical aspects and the sources of stress; I’m talking about emotional development in early childhood and the huge weight of responsibility to ensure we don’t inadvertently screw them up for life.

Thankfully, with a little mindful parenting it’s entirely possible to help wire your kid’s brain for happiness so they grow up as healthy, well-rounded individuals.

So, how can we as parents foster an inclination towards a positive mindset and disposition?

Well, firstly it’s important to consider what that actually looks like, because if one of the lessons we’re teaching our children is to strive for perfection or happiness, we may be doing them a disservice without even realising it.

Here are some better, healthier alternatives…

How to raise happy kids - a pin for Pinterest.

How to Raise Happy Kids

1. Teach Them to Label Their Emotions

It can be surprisingly tricky to accurately do this even as adults. For example, people will often say they’re angry, when in fact what they’re feeling beneath that anger is hurt.

Of course, to express hurt is to be vulnerable, and so it can be easier for it to manifest as fury – and we can become confused by our own feelings.

Being able to properly identify and label our feelings is a really powerful way to take ownership of them, and begin to process and work through them.

To foster this aspect of emotional development in early childhood, knowing and understanding the correct terms for their feelings is vital. We can help facilitate this important learning from a young age by equipping our children with the necessary vocabulary.

When they’re little, simply stating what you see can be useful in teaching them to start doing this for themselves. For example, ‘you’re frustrated because…’ or ‘…made you sad’, etc.

Emotional development in early childhood. Image shows mother helping daughter to do homework.

For proactive ways to help your child with this, there are lots of ideas to try in this post sharing activities for supporting emotional development in young children.

2. Encourage a Growth Mindset

I touched earlier on striving for perfection, and while it’s often used as a ‘great’ example reply in interviews when asked about negative traits – true perfectionism really is negative! I speak from bitter experience – my eldest daughter demonstrates perfectionism, which she no doubt has picked up from me, and it’s an ongoing battle to overcome this.

Perfectionism can manifest as an expectation for new endeavours to be easy – and when they’re not, there’s a reluctance to persevere. 

There may also be feelings of inadequacy and frustration – either from perceived flaws in activities undertaken, or difficulty in achieving a goal – which can lead to temper and, ultimately, an unwillingness to try new things.

Little girl sitting on a log looking fed up.

It’s critical to teach children early on that practice makes perfect progress.

3. Teach Them It’s Okay to Feel Sad or Cross

Going back now to striving for happiness and my comment about doing our little people a disservice, there’s a problem with this narrative; the implication is that feeling anything other than happy is not okay. 

But feeling happy all of the time is simply not feasible or realistic.

Nobody is happy all of the time – and that’s okay.

It’s our responsibility to teach our children that bad feelings are a part of life, that they’re not scary and they don’t need to avoided. Encouraging our children to tune into their emotions, embrace and feel them, and to express them in healthy ways is an incredibly valuable lesson.

A mother embracing a young girl.

4. Practice Gratitude

That said, of course we do all strive to be as content as possible as often as possible – that’s fine, natural, and there’s nothing inherently wrong in it. It’s kind of what this entire blog is about.

It’s about balance, and managing expectations; it’s about mindset.

So, rather than expecting everything to be rosy all of the time and finding it hard to accept anything less, it’s about learning to be okay with everything not being rosy; accepting that sometimes life is tough – and knowing that it will pass; staying positive in the face of adversity.

One of the best possible ways to do this is by practicing gratitude. It trains the mind to find the good in every situation, which sets you up for feeling more contented with your lot, regardless of how much you have.

Choose Kindness - Girl Giving Flowers to Her Mother

When you find yourself feeling unhappy, reframing allows you to feel better without anything outwardly changing. This is one of the most powerful tools you can give your child.

5. Model Forgiveness

As an extension to the previous point, teaching your child to forgive is a guaranteed way to bring them a more peaceful life:

Forgiveness is not for the benefit of the forgiven person – it’s to allow you to let go of the hurt you’re harbouring and to move on, liberated.

This is one plenty of adults struggle with, so instilling this principle early on is hugely beneficial. 

6. Practice Mindfulness

In this day and age of technology everywhere we look, it’s getting harder and harder to switch off. Algorithms are literally written to deter us from doing so – our time and attention equals revenue. And it’s a ticking time bomb for mental health.

The only remedy is mindfulness.

Putting healthy boundaries in place and encouraging your children to practice being present without distractions, is so important to their wellbeing – it’s practically a form of therapy.

Family Yoga

Here are some mindfulness activity ideas to do with your child to help them become acquainted with the concept. The really great thing about this one is that it’s not a chore – they’ll love every moment you spend doing this with them. 

And so will you – because it’s equally vital for your wellbeing too. And you’ll never wish you’d spent less time being present with your children while they’re little.