How to Really Know if Your Child is Happy
I’m going to cry foul on a recent Cafemom article about how to know whether your child is happy. I was a fairly happy child, so I’m going to use myself as an example.
I didn’t have good friends. Or, I didn’t when I was in elementary school. I spent many a recess by myself, and I usually brought a book outside with me so I could look engaged instead of staring at the other kids with longing. Did I have kids at my birthday party? Sure. Did I have some playdates? Sure. But I would never describe myself as having good friends. Until middle school, I didn’t have dependable, strong, lasting friendships.
And I would still describe myself as happy. Maybe not at school, which was a pretty stressful space that I had to spend about 7 hours of my day, but definitely at home. Definitely a happy kid, overall.
I didn’t know how to look on the bright side. Have you met me? I have been a pessimist from Day 1. I have never spent a moment thinking how great it is that my block tower has been knocked down so I can build something new. Since birth, I have been much more likely to curl up in a small ball and sob inconsolably when shit happens. So no, I can’t say that I have spent a single second of my life looking at the bright side of things. But I would still describe myself as a happy kid.
Was I grateful? Of course I wasn’t grateful. Kids are rarely truly grateful because they have no concept of the enormity of other people’s actions. The Wolvog thanks me for every tiny thing including making pancakes in normal circles. Do I think he really understands what saying “thank you” means? No — he says it because it’s polite and he’s trying to butter me up so I will let him stay up later.
Until you become an adult, you have no clue how hard it is to be an adult. Therefore, your gratitude is tempered by the fact that it comes from a place of not understanding the sacrifice or extension that the other person made on your behalf. Still, look at me: happy kid.
Okay, I was pretty comfortable expressing my emotions. Um… that one I can’t really argue about.
Lastly, plenty of time for play. That’s a hard one because I was never the type of kid who did well with unstructured time. I didn’t like summer, for instance, unless summer had a rigid schedule. I am still terrible with the concept of unstructured time. I even write down to-do lists for having fun during free time.
A lot of kids are the same way. They derive joy from knowing their schedule is filled and feel uneasy when the day is amorphous. Was I overscheduled? I don’t think so, but I certainly had a lot of activities after school including Hebrew school, art classes, and dance lessons. Plus my version of “play” was mostly reading books OR writing down all the facts I could find in the World Book Encyclopedia on a given topic. Usually human hearts or exotic fish. I was equally in love with reading about ventricles and viperfish. So, yes, happy, even with a lack of unstructured play time since I structured all my unstructured time.
I don’t know. I can’t help but feel that it may be more useful to spend time with the kid and gauge his or her mood rather than trying to guess at it with an article. Plus, I don’t think that one-size-fits-all when it comes to happy people. I’m proof that you can be happy off the beaten happiness track.