Tag Archives: children

A Little Happier: Having More Doesn’t Always Make Us Happier.

I wrote about this story in my book The Happiness Project; its lesson is just as true for adults as for children.

I’ve never forgotten about that little boy saying sadly, “I can’t love lots of cars.”

If you like this story, and would like to hear more wisdom from the teacher who told it to me, you can check out the excellent book that she wrote with her colleague: Practical Wisdom for Parents: Raising Self-Confident Children in the Preschool Years, by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum.

If you want to get the  Moment of Happiness newsletter, where I email you a quote about happiness or human nature every morning, sign up here. I love gathering and sharing quotations.

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Back to School: How to Help Your Children (and You) Form Good Habits.

In the United States, it’s back-to-school time. And that means getting back into the habits required by school.

So many things to manage! Waking up on time and going to bed on time. Packing the backpack for school, with homework, permissions slips, lunch, sports clothes, etc. Doing homework. Showing up promptly throughout the day. Plus, many children have after-school activities, so there’s just that much more to remember.

The question is: how can we help children form habits that will help them handle this load, without our constant nagging and supervising?

I’ve thought a lot about this myself, because each year when school begins, it hits my family hard. We have to work to get back into the swing of routine. Upholder that I am (see below), I relish this routine, but the other members of my family don’t agree.

In my book Better Than Before, about habit-formation, I learned one key fact that many habit experts ignore. There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits. The thing that works for me may be the opposite of what works for you. We need to form habits in a way that suits our nature. And the same is true for kids.

In Better Than Before, I identify 21 strategies that we can use to master our habits. So there are many from which to choose, as you try to help your child. Consider, for example:

Strategy of Convenience — this is the most universal strategy. We’re all more likely to do something if it’s easy to do it. So make it easy for your child to stick to a habit. If you want him to hang up his coat, clear out the closet so there’s plenty of room, or put in hooks that are quicker to use than hangers. If you want her to practice an instrument every afternoon, figure out a way so that all the equipment can stay at the ready, instead of needing to be hauled out and put away every time she practices.

Strategy of Inconvenience — likewise, we’re less likely to do something if it’s a pain. If you want him to stop sneaking cookies, put the cookies in a hard-to-open container on a high shelf. If you want her to stop hitting the snooze alarm in the morning, put the alarm clock across the room, so she has to get out of bed to turn it off.

Strategy of Distinctions — people are very different from each other, but we parents often try to make our children form the habits that work for usDon’t assume that because something works for you — that you work best in a space that’s very quiet and spare, or you think most clearly early in the morning, or you like to get everything finished well before the deadline, or you like to have a lot of supervision — that the same is true for your child. Pay close attention to how that child works best.

I made this mistake with my older daughter. When I work, I must be at a desk, and I kept trying to get her to work at a desk, instead of sitting in a chair or on her bed. It drove me crazy. How could she be productive on her laptop, when she was sprawled across her bed? Finally, light dawned. Just because I work best at a desk doesn’t make that a universal law of human nature.

Strategy of Abstaining — this strategy works well for some people, but not for others. Talk to your child, and explain, “For some people, it’s too hard to have a little bit of something, or to do something for a little while. They find it easier to give something up altogether. Do you think that for you, it would be easier to stop ________ [playing that favorite video game, using that app] than to try to do it just a little bit? Or maybe just do it on the weekend?” Your child may surprise you. Maybe not, but maybe.

Strategy of Other People — to a huge degree, we’re influenced by other people’s habits. So if you want your children to adopt a habit, adopt that habit yourself. If you want them to be organized in the morning, be organized yourself. If you want them to go to sleep on time, go to sleep on time yourself. If you want them to put down their devices and read a book, put down your device.

Strategy of Foundation — It’s easier to stick to our good habits when we have a strong foundation. That means getting enough sleep; not letting yourself get too hungry; getting some exercise; and (for most people) keeping our physical space reasonably orderly. So to help your child manage habits well, make sure to emphasize things like bedtime, not skipping meals, physical activity, and clutter.

Strategy of the Four Tendencies — In this personality framework, I divide all of humanity into four categories: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell a child’s Tendency until young adulthood — but some Tendencies are obvious from a very young age.

To figure out your Tendency, here’s a Quiz (more than 500,000 people have taken it). You could ask your child to take the Quiz, or read the short description of the Tendencies here — in many cases, you will very easily identify your child’s Tendency.

Or here’s a extremely over-simplified version, but to give you an idea:

If your child seems to need little support during the school year, that child is probably an Upholder.

If your child asks a lot of questions, and says things like, “But what’s the point of memorizing the state capitols?” “I didn’t do that homework because it’s a waste of my time, and the teacher is an idiot,” your child is probably a Questioner.

If your child is able to do tasks when given reminders, deadlines, supervision, but struggles to do things on his or her own, that child may be an Obliger.

If, to a very noticeable degree, your child wants to do things in his or her own way and own time, that child is probably a Rebel. If you ask or tell a Rebel to do something, that Rebel is very likely to resist. It’s very helpful to identify a Rebel early, because the strategies that work for the other Tendencies often backfire with Rebels! It’s not the case that “all toddlers are Rebels” or “All teens are Rebels.”

In just about every situation, it’s extremely helpful to know a person’s Tendency, because it makes a big difference in what works. For instance, the Strategy of Accountability is crucial for Obligers; often helpful but perhaps not necessary for Upholders and Questioners, but counter-productive for Rebels! Supervision, nagging, and reminders will make a Rebel child less likely to keep a habit.

The Four Tendencies framework is a huge subject. In fact, right now I’m finishing up an entire book about the Four Tendencies, and how to use them in different situations. (To be notified when that book hits the shelves, sign up here.)

If you want to hear more, you can also listen to discussions on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. Elizabeth and I have talked about it several times, for instance, here.

How about you — have you found any strategies or tips for helping a child to form good habits? The pressures of  school make it very clear that for children as well as for adults, having helpful habits makes life a lot easier.

A Little Happier: We Can’t Spare Our Children Normal Social Pain.

I have a few favorite parenting books that I’ve read and re-read, books such as Faber and Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk and Siblings Without Rivalry; Schulman and Birnbaum’s Practical Wisdom for Parents; and Thompson’s Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.

In today’s Little Happier (scroll down and click to listen), I talk about a truth from Michael Thompson’s book Mom, They’re Teasing Me: Helping Your Child Solve Social Problems that I find both sad and reassuring: we can’t spare our children normal social pain.

Sidenote: One thing I’ve learned is that advice that’s great for children usually applies equally well for adults. I apply most of what I’ve learned from these books to my adult relationships, with equal success. For instance, when I was researching habits for Better Than Before, I did a fair amount of research on the design of pre-school and kindergarten routines.

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A Little Happier: The Days Are Long, But the Years Are Short.

Of everything I’ve ever created, I think my one-minute video The Years Are Short is the thing that resonates most with people.

It’s even more poignant now — my daughter Eliza, the little girl in the story, is seventeen years old! Sunrise, sunset.

Thanks, as always, to my terrific sponsor: Audible.

Audible has more than 180,000 audio-books and spoken-word audio products. Get a free 30-day trial at Audible.com/happier.  Your first book is free!

In fact, for your free book, if you’d like to read more about “the years are short,” you can choose my book The Happiness Project. (Yes, I am the reader for it.)

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Agree? “I Sometimes Feel Like I Have a Brain Issue Around Understanding How Long Things Will Take Me.”

Interview: Laurie Berkner.

I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and the first commandment, and the most important, is to “Be Gretchen.”

In some ways, it makes me sad to “Be Gretchen,” because it means admitting my limitations. And one of my limitations? I don’t have much appreciation for music.

I mean, sure, I like a song here or there, but I don’t have the passionate interest and enjoyment of music that so many people have. On the upside — more time to read!

That’s why it’s all the more surprising that I love the music of Laurie Berkner.  Her band is the Laurie Berkner Band, and she has lots of terrific albums, she regularly appeared on Nick Jr. and Sprout, she’s written children’s books, she gives huge concerts, and so on.

She’s best known as a writer and performer of music for children, but I love her music as an adult. She has many songs I love.

In The Happiness Project, in a discussion of why children boost happiness, I wrote:  “Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t…pore over Baskin-Robbins cake designs, memorize Is Your Mama a Llama?…I wouldn’t watch Shrek over and over or listen to Laurie Berkner’s music…Nevertheless, I honestly do enjoy these activities with my children. I don’t just enjoy their pleasure…I also experience my own sincere enjoyment of activities that I would otherwise never have considered.”

So here’s the beauty of Twitter. Laurie Berkner herself tweeted me a message! Saying how much she liked The Happiness Project and that she got a kick out of seeing her work mentioned.

I was so excited. I went running to my family and said, “You’ll never guess who just sent me a message on Twitter!” They were very impressed.

I actually got to have coffee with Laurie Berkner, and of course, ply her with questions about her habits. I was dying to hear what she said.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?  

Laurie: Going to the farmers’ market on Sundays to drop off our compost and buy food for the week.  I like saying hi to all of the people who sell there, running into friends, knowing I put a little less garbage into a landfill and discovering what is in season. It’s my treat to myself whenever I’m not working on a Sunday morning.  Plus, we make it into a family affair when everyone is home.  We even bring our dog, Winston.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That I’m much happier forming habits for myself than for someone else. Also, that I am often not very good at forming habits in a long term way.  It takes a lot of work for me.  I start with good intentions, enjoy them, but I often lose track of the things that make me happy.  It’s as if I forget the effect they have on me, and I only remember those good feelings once I convince myself to do them again. It’s also easier to convince myself now that I’ve had many more years to experience how good the good habits can feel—I can at least recall them intellectually.

Sometimes I even use images to remind myself.  For example, going to sleep before 11 pm is very challenging for me. Recently I’ve been able to do it pretty consistently for one of the first times I can remember. I remember visiting my brother and sister-in-law a few years ago (they are both great at getting to bed early), and I saw her climb in bed, pull the covers up to her chin, and close her eyes with a look of pure contentment on her face just before she called out “goodnight!”When I find myself putting off getting in bed, I conjure up that image of my sister-in-law and it helps me remember how good I feel once I pull the covers up and am lying down myself.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Misjudging time. It sometimes feels to me as if I have a brain issue around understanding how long things will take me.  I never leave enough time for things that will take a while, and I leave too much time for short tasks. It also means I’m late, a lot.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)  

It’s funny, while being creative is really important to me, I don’t have a lot of habits around it. I just tend to be creative when I feel like it. But habits are really important for me for my physical and emotional health. Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time outside and in nature, meditating (that I one I have the hardest time maintaining), are all really important habits for me. Actually these habits all help everything I do. They help my health, my creativity, my productivity, my happiness, and my relationships.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger? 

I took the test on your site and it said I was a Questioner.  I wasn’t at all sure what it would say I was.  I feel like I can see myself dip into Rebel and Obliger as well.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties, too much performance)  

It’s funny, traveling when I’m performing actually often helps me keep my healthy habits.  I make sure to go to bed early, I don’t snack before bed, I make time to practice, and I get things on my to-do list done that I’ve been putting off. I think being away from home and not feeling the pressure of all the things I do as a mom makes me feel like I have more time to do things that I would otherwise squeeze out of my schedule.

And the thing that interferes with my ability to keep healthy habits the most is when I have a lot going on at work. It spills into my personal life and time.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?  

Hmm, I’m not really sure.  I think I resist them more than I embrace them – but I’m drawn to the idea of having good habits.  It just seems like there is never enough time for all of them.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes.  I had a therapist for almost 20 years who taught me a lot about making time for myself.  It helped me enormously in feeling okay about making time to cook my own meals, see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor regularly, and take the time I need in order to finish projects and feel good about them.

How do you feel about answering questions about habits?

Strangely stressed out.  I feel aware of how hard it is for me to stay consistent in most areas of my life.  I feel like I keep habits in phases.  I will loyally do something for a period of time, then I’ll forget about it and start doing something else loyally for the next period of time and then find a third and maybe a fourth thing and then rediscover the first one and start all over again.

What are you currently working on?

I have a new double album out of traditional kids’ songs called Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs.  In early 2016, I’m launching an online training of my “me and my grown-up” type curriculum for music teachers called Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me.  You can hear me talk about ways to incorporate music into daily family life every day on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live with “The Music In Me Minute.” I’m also making new videos every month on the Official Laurie Berkner Band YouTube page, we have a very active Facebook page with fun crafts, and I’m always performing and would love for people to know about my shows and come see them! People can sign up for our fan list at www.laurieberkner.com to be notified about performances in their area and anything else I’m up to.