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Parenting: boosting mental health and wellbeing in kids

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Just four minutes of enthusiasm when you come home from work can really boost family mood

Dr Andy Cope shares everyday tips to help children and families flourish, creating a happy family with positivity, questions and the right hug

Every parent wants their child to be confident, positive and, above all, happy. The self-proclaimed first doctor of happiness can help you make it happen.

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the TV series Little House on the Prairie and its equally wholesome cousin, The Waltons, with their classic, clean-cut families. Each episode was basically the same: the family was happy, something rocked their boat, they held together and, through mutual love, pulled through in the end. They may have been poor but, goodness, they were happy units of close-knit kinship.

That was then. Now is different. Now is faster, more stressful, more full-on. So here are a few reminders about how to create flourishing families, sometimes against the odds…

Keeping things positive

Human emotions are contagious, and the first four minutes of any interaction are an opportunity to set the tone. That means the ‘coming home from work’ bit is crucial. In a bizarre tradition, many families go through a ritual of offloading all their emotional detritus on the ones they love most. Saving up all your rubbish to share seems like a strange thing to do, but it’s very often what happens. If this occurs day after day, it has a cumulative effect on family wellbeing. Negative emotions work a bit like second-hand smoke – you catch them whether you want to or not.

I asked myself how the best dad in the world would come through the door, and started to do exactly that. Enthusiasm, happiness, excitement, energy… and you only have to do it for four minutes.

Asking the right questions

Following on from the four-minute rule, start asking positive questions. For example, instead of “How was school?” try, “What was the highlight of your day?”, “What was the best thing you learned today?” or “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened?” When my kids were little, I used to ask “How was your day – good, fantastic or brilliant?” It’s not an exact science, but these questions give you a better chance of a positive conversation.

One of the most effective things a parent or grandparent can do is to use a positivity/negativity ratio of about 8:1. It can be difficult to get right, but catch your child doing things well. Notice the little things and tell them. And mean it.

Giving praise – and hugs

Your children will be aware of the concept of growth mindsets (it’s doing the rounds in British schools), and with praise in mind, the advice is that if your child accomplishes something, don’t say, “Well done, you are such a little genius!” but rather, “Awesome, you put the effort in and got the reward.”

And my last point is a simple one. The average hug lasts just over two seconds. If you hang on for a full seven seconds, then oodles of nice warm chemicals flow around both bodies and the love is transferred. Two pieces of advice: don’t count out loud as it tends to spoil the effect, and it’s for close family members only (NOT strangers in the park).


Dr Andy Cope is also the best-selling author of Diary of a Brilliant Kid, available now from Amazon. Find out more about Andy at his Art of Brilliance website.

Happiness doctor Andy Cope

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