How to teach your kids to be happy

I have helicopter parent tendencies. Indeed, I’m the kind of parent who hovers in the playground to spot tumbles off the slide.

I have helicopter parent tendencies. Indeed, I’m the kind of parent who hovers in the playground to spot tumbles off the slide. I eagle-eye them at dinner to make sure a balanced meal makes it past their teeth. I organize play dates rather than letting play happen more organically by wandering out the front door to see if the neighbour kids are around.

Again, I stress tendencies—I by no means own a full-card membership to the Helicopter Parent Club, but I’m on top of my kids more than I’d like. I also not-so-casually play 20 questions when I pick them up from school and daycare—how was your day? Did you have any problems with Friend X or Y? Who did you sit with at lunch? How was your teacher today? And as it turns out, that’s a thumbs up move on my part, notes Alexandra Keay, the Ottawa-based project manager for Canadian Mental Health Week.

I called Keay the other day to get her thoughts on something I’d come across—the concept of “Happiness classes.” In England, Berkshire-based Wellington College has been offering “happiness classes” to its student body where students focus on elements such as mind-body relationships, their family and friendships and so forth. Much to the opposition of some of the student body’s parents, who thought it was a waste of time at an academically prestigious institution, the College built on that premise and recently rolled out a similar program for parents of students.

What a smart idea, I thought. And Keay agreed. “There needs to be more focus on children’s mental health. In Canada there are very high waiting lists for services for children and we’ve got children dealing with depression, anxiety and we hear lots about bullying, family dysfunction, divorce or separation and all of those things can contribute to children’s mental health,” she noted. “And children are like adults—our quality of life dictates our mental health.”

But I wondered—it’s likely classes such as these aren’t about to be rolled out in Canadian schools anytime soon, so what could a parent do to start to focus on their children’s mental health? Turns out my 20 questions strategy is right on track. “Starting from a very young age, you can check in with them starting when they get home from school. How are they feeling? How was their day? How are their friends? You need to pay attention and communicate with your child,” says Keay. “Because communicating with them and helping them cultivate friends through activities for example will help build good mental health.”

Ditto for us adults. Boosting our friendship and connection time with others will in turn help our own happiness as well. “Think about this—if you’re stranded on a highway at two a.m. in a snowstorm and you have to call two people and they can’t be relatives, can you honestly think of two people who’d come and pick you up?” Keay asks. “If you have to think about that, then it’s time to work on the friendships in your life.”