In part 1 of our “Healthy vs. Happy” series, we explored why parents might find themselves torn between focusing on raising a healthy child and “letting” their child be happy. As ZisBoomBah psychologist Beth Lonergan, PsyD has explained, instead of focusing on being healthy as the goal, healthy should becomes an element of your child being happy; something that happens on the road to being happy.
But how can we encourage our children to take healthy steps on their path to being happy and enjoying themselves? “The steps have to be small. Be realistic about what your child can manage,” Dr. Lonergan says. Have your child tell you in her own language what’s important to her. Our expert cautions parents not to assume they know exactly what makes their child happy. It is important to be nonjudgmental and accepting if your child’s goal is different from what you had in mind. (Note to self: Let it be — for now — that your 7 year old aspires to become the next Taylor Swift. At least she is saying she wants to be a singer/songwriter, not a “pop star.”)
Make it fun — setting goals can be serious and task oriented, but we have a game for that!
Naturally, we wouldn’t be ZisBoomBah, if we wouldn’t encourage you to make it fun. “Playfulness is part of the happiness factor,” Dr. Lonergan agrees. “Find the balance between doing something that is serious and task oriented — like setting goals — but do it with fun.” Is there a way parents and kids can make a game out of setting goals, our expert wonders? Why, yes, there is — ZisBoomBah’s Challenger Calendar, a free online game for achieving goals.
Motivation — getting your child on board
As we discussed in part 1 of this series, “Healthy vs. Happy: What’s your goal?” involving kids is essential to being successful in achieving the goals you set with them and for them. Sometimes, motivation does not come naturally. (No kidding. As working adults, we know this. So it’s only fair to acknowledge that our children might have days when they simply don’t want to do what’s best for them.)
Therapists, like Dr. Lonergan, use a method to elicit someone’s goals called “motivational interviewing.” Our expert wants you to try this with your child. “Your child might be telling you that he never gets picked for a team in PE class. Be a good listener. What you might be hearing, though it remains unsaid, is that other kids think your son is not be physically fit enough to help their team succeed. “You can’t be the one naming the problem,” Dr. Lonergan says. “You have to elicit motivation from your child.” Go with what your child is telling you, and your discussion will uncover their motivation. Is it important to him to get picked for a team? Then have a conversation with your child, where you say, “I wonder how we could get there.”
Seize the power struggle — your kid is not resisting
An important part of Dr. Lonergan’s technique is that you don’t see you child as being resistant. “If she says, ‘No, I don’t want to do that,’ and you interpret it as resistance, you will inevitably get into a power struggle,” she warns. “And that doesn’t get you very far.
Instead, don’t think of your child’s opposition as negative. It can be an opportunity to learn something new about her. Step back and tell yourself, this is not about my kid being a brat. Try to involve your child in the process. Our psychologist encourages parents to build motivation for their child to do something by letting go of power struggles. “You don’t necessarily have to understand right away what the issue at hand is about,” she says. “But if you step back and create that openness, that will usually reveal itself to you.”
Read more about kids and power struggles: Power Struggles, Part 1: When kids use food as “weapon” and “Power Struggles, Part 2: How to get through to your child.”