There is no such thing as a “perfect” parent though most of us try to be the best mom or dad we can be. Just as we tend to model the parenting habits of our parents, our children too will model themselves based on who they see in us. If we want our children to BE HAPPY we need to be Super-Models of Happiness and our kids will follow our lead.

By: Patrick McMillan

Just as Mahatma Gandhi said in his most famous quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” as parents we must be the people we want to see in our kids.

I was appalled but not overly surprised when I heard about a third grade child at my kid’s school who was using extreme profanity toward other children out at the playground. A playground is a place to play and have fun with friends at recess, not a place where your child should be subject to hearing words that no child should be hearing, especially if those words are coming from another child. “He is just a bad kid” I heard a parent say of this child and I thought to myself, that can’t be true. He is only in third grade and there is no way we can place full responsibility on the child. He is only modeling the behavior he observes at home. I am not saying he has “bad” parents, but what I am saying is that his parents may not be aware that their child’s behavior is a mirror image of what he experiences at home. If we really want our child to be the people we want them to be, we must lead by example and be that person first for them to mirror.

If you have ever flown in a passenger plane you have heard the instructions for using the oxygen mask in case of an emergency, and if you are traveling with children the instructions insist you PLACE YOUR OXYGEN MASK ON FIRST BEFORE ASSISTING A CHILD.

Every parent, when asked what they want most for their child, provides an answer that almost always includes the word HAPPINESS, but is it possible for your child to be happy if his mom or dad are unhappy? If we truly mean what we say in that we will always do what is in the best interest of our children, then we MUST GET HAPPY!

When our children observe how we react to events and circumstances in our daily life, they will believe that our reaction is “the right way to react” when they experience a similar circumstance or event. We tend to explain positive and negative events that happen in our life in one of two ways, either in an optimistic or pessimistic style and these traits have been found in clinical research to be the most highly heritable traits we pass on to our children. When we blame others and fail to take responsibility for our life, our children will surely blame others and fail to take responsibility. When we get angry and hostile and use profanity, so will our kids. When we say things like “We will never pay that off” or “we can’t afford that” or “Why do you always…” or “You never…” our kids pick up on this pessimistic style and will mimic it, and pessimism is directly linked to clinical anxiety and depression.
Five Ways to GET HAPPY with your Kids

1. Be Grateful

As often as possible be truly and mindfully thankful for everything you are and everything you have in your life, including your children, and let them know it often. When they see how happy and grateful you are for all you have rather than upset because of the things you don’t have, they will start to mirror this way of thinking, but they must see you experience it first.

If you can start to keep a gratitude journal with your kids, great! Each morning list grateful thoughts together and share them.

2. Share 3 GOOD Experiences

Each evening at dinner time, have each family member tell about 3 good things that happened today. Through recognizing the good things that happen each day, you and your children will start to notice more of the good things in life and less of the not so good.

3. Model Forgiveness

Gratitude and forgiveness go hand in hand, but to be forgiving requires the ability to let go of hard feelings toward someone who may have hurt us in some way. This requires a level of emotional literacy and empathy. The event that once caused painful emotion is recalled in a completely different way after forgiving. To forgive sets your heart free and opens up the possibility for reconciliation and maintaining relationships. Let your children know that you do forgive them when they misbehave, and ask for their forgiveness when you do too. This goes for your spouse as well. When you and your child learn to forgive and let go of negative feelings toward others you open the door to a remarkable life.

4. Take Responsibility – Learn to say I’m Sorry

We all want our children to learn to take responsibility for their choices and actions and the very best way to instill responsibility is to let your kids see you take responsibility for your choices and actions. It is sometimes not until after we react in a negative way that we realize our actions were not appropriate or uncalled for and we end up feeling bad about ourselves and sorry for our behavior. When you child witnesses you taking responsibility and hears your heartfelt apology, they too will see that they will feel better when they take responsibility. Let them know you can forgive yourself too.

5. Dream BIG – Together

Mental imagery, creative visualization and auto-suggestion are terms that have been used to describe the action of using our incredible imagination for the attainment of our goals and aspirations. Discuss big dreams with your child and ask them to describe the details of their big dreams. Remind them of the words of Walt Disney:

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it”

Create a family Think Big Board by hanging a cork board in the kitchen and each family member can pin up pictures from magazines, inspirational quotes and drawings of things we want to do together, places we want to travel to together and to motivate and inspire the whole family to think big and go for our dreams.

6. Order what you want, you will like it more!

At a restaurant would you order the items off the menu that you don’t want? Of course not, so why is it that we all have a habit of telling our kids what we don’t want and yet we expect to see the results that we want. It just does not make sense. We say things like “don’t be late” don’t make a mess” “don’t hit your brother” and my favorite “don’t FORGET to brush your teeth” among so many others. If we can teach our kids to speak in terms of what they want rather than what they don’t want, they may just start to attract more of what they want in their life.

Play the “I Want-I Don’t Want” game at home with the whole family. At my house you earn a point for asking for what you want, like “I want to stay up later” and you loose a point for asking for what you don’t want, like “I don’t want to go to bed now” or for moms and dads, “I want you to be nicer to your brother” instead of “Don’t be mean to your brother.”

At the end of the week the person with the most points gets to pick the dinner and movie for family movie night.

Instilling these mental habits in ourselves and our children can't help but increase our levels of joy and satisfaction with life, and the benefits to our children will be felt for the rest of their life. I can see the size of self-help sections in books stores starting to shrink already:)

Author's Bio: 

About the Author:

Patrick McMillan is the founder of and the author of An Exercise in Happiness, a 30 day emotional fitness/ Character Education program for children in 3rd to 5th grade. A stay at home dad for over seven years with two young boys Patrick puts his lessons into practice every day and writes about their experiences. Also a member of the International Positive Psychology Association Patrick combines the science and philosophy of happiness into empowering programs for kids. For more information please visit or email

The Ultimate Kid’s Guide to Happiness is a FREE e-book for kids available for parents to download at