Making Children Happy: At What Cost?

As a mother and a frequent observer in child care programs, I’ve noticed a trend in teaching as well as parenting: we seem to be focused on making our kids HAPPY. Of course I believe this is important (who doesn’t?), but I wonder what we are teaching children and what the consequences of our focus might be. Wanting children to be happy all of the time can lead to missed opportunities for growth and learning.

At the grocery store recently, I overheard a mother trying to keep her two children well behaved as she moved up and down the aisles. They were begging for the little cheap toys that hang from the shelving units. She said that they weren’t there for toys and they didn’t have the extra money for them, but the children’s pleas became more intense and louder. In the end the mom ended up letting her children pick a toy for some peace and quiet.

There are other ways to keep children occupied during situations like this one. What about having helpers to pull things off the shelf and put them in the cart, or marking items off of a list? Children are getting something more substantial than a toy out of involvement like this. They get to have fun with their parent and feel that they are contributing toward getting the job done! We have similar opportunities in child care programs, and know all too well how impossible it can be to keep an entire classroom of children 100 percent happy unless we’re engaging with them in meaningful ways.

When we “give in” we run the risk of teaching children that if they act out enough they will end up getting what they want in the end. This won’t lead to anything more than temporary happiness, and doesn’t prepare children very well for the reality of school or work. Wouldn’t it be great if all your boss wanted to do was make you happy? While that’s part of the deal, we all have responsibilities and those often come first.

Sometimes it can hurt our hearts to be the one to say “no.” But helping children to understand that there are boundaries and they won’t always get what they want are important ones for parents and teachers to impart.