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09th Oct 2023

World Mental Health Day: Ways to raise happy, kind and caring kids


We all want the same thing when it comes to our kids.

Today (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day and in light of this, we want to acknowledge a goal that every parents wants: to raise children that are healthy, happy and well-adjusted.

It doesn’t matter where we parent, or how we parent, how old we were when we became parents, it’s a universal goal for mums and dads.

But how do we get there?

In this age of books and blogs and experts and column inches all bombarding us with advice on what – and what not – to do when it comes to parenting, how do we know who to believe? Attachment parenting or Tiger Moms, cry-it-out or cuddle all night – what is the right way? What works?

I often think that being a parent today, in this ultra-informed society, where we constantly get inundated with advice and opinions and have instant access – via social media – into everyone else’s life – is so much harder than it must have been for our parents or grandparents raising their children.

Why? They, to a much bigger extent, had to just trust their instincts. They kept it simple. They fed their children, kept them clothed and cared for them – and voila – that was more or less it.

Nowadays, it is a different story, and really – are we just making things a whole lot more complicated than it needs to be? To raise happy children, are we really doing them a favour by all our ‘over-parenting’ and fretting?

Hugh Van Cuylenberg is the founder of the resilience project and author of his new book, The Resilience Project: Finding happiness through gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. He recently spoke to Babyology about the importance of resilience when it comes to raising happy children, and explains building resilience requires three things, something he learnt from his time volunteering with children in northern India.

“We arrived at a village with no running water, no electricity, no bed and everyone sleeps on a dirt floor. I remember very clearly my first day in the school teaching these kids and just thinking to myself, ‘I have never seen joy like this in my entire life,’” says Hugh.

“And I couldn’t help but contrast it to my five-year teaching experience back in Australia where the kids had everything. Yet we had so many issues around anxiety and depression and not coping.”

What he discovered? These three simple daily habits made all the difference:

1. Gratitude

Gratitude is a big one and involves being grateful for the things you already have.

“In countries like Australia, we live on the opposite model of happiness, which is, if this happens, then I will feel happy,” Van Cuylenberg explains. “So if I can buy this car, then I’d feel happy. But happiness doesn’t work like that. Happiness comes from paying attention to what you’ve already got.”

In India, he explains, the kids would stop every day and point out something good.

“Things like shoes, you know, a kid tying up his shoelaces, saying, ‘Look at this’. Some of the kids didn’t have shoes. So the ones that did, tied them up saying, ‘Look how lucky I am. I’ve got shoes on my feet.”

2. Mindfulness

When you hear ‘mindfulness’ you might be thinking of yoga and meditation, but this isn’t really the point. Mindfulness is about living your life in the present moment, and according to Van Cuylenberg, it can make an enormous difference to feelings of happiness and contentment.

“We’re not present,” he says. “Apparently, we spend 49 percent of our day thinking about the future, and I think it’s around 25 percent thinking about the past. So we give ourselves 20 percent of the day where we’re thinking about what’s happening as it’s happening, and that’s really sad.”

So get into the habit of teaching your children to be present. Stop to enjoy the little things. Watch sunsets, marvel at kittens, soak up their laugh at bathtime. If you start being mindful, they will do.

3. Empathy

Another important one when it comes to feeling happy.

“Empathy is when you feel what someone else feels,” Van Cuylenberg explains. “And that’s an important thing because the more empathetic you are, the more likely you are to act kindly.”

There really is something to the old saying about making others smile, you know. Being kind is an essential part of what makes us feel happy.

“Whenever you do something nice for someone, your brain releases a hormone that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. It’s called the love hormone because it makes you feel positive emotions such as love, joy and happiness.”