Whether or not you are reading along with us, please enjoy this overview of Chapters 7-9 by Katy Keim of BookSnob and then jump on into the discussion.
Chapter 7: Control Your Impulses.
In this chapter, Carter tells us there are two types of control, the external type of rules and the internal type of self-discipline. On the latter, we are governed by the “go” system (the response system from birth, which guards against fear and is essentially our impulsivity) and the “know” system that we develop through childhood and that help us with self-control. Those kids that have a better developed “know system”, who can essentially delay gratification and show greater self-control, are generally happier.
But if Christine points this fact out to us, I must admit, I didn’t find the tips to strengthen kids’ self-discipline to be as practically applicable as I would have liked. They seemed a little squishy to me. The one exception is that Christine mentions that martial arts, dance, music, and storytelling are types of activities that are good for self-discipline. Kids have to hold complex information in their minds and must stay focused while participating in it. That’s practicing self-discipline.
Chapter 7 A-ha Moment: Carter cites that parents say no 50% less than the last generation. I know my Midwestern parents would agree with that statistic!! When I was growing up, there were many things we didn’t do just because we were told not to. Carter gives us permission to go back to being a more authoritative parent. As long as it can be done kindly and consistently, setting limits with our kids shows them what is in bounds and out of bounds. It is basically like laying out a roadmap toward self-control.
Chapter 8: Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?
Are you listening Mom? If Chapter 3 about perfectionism really spoke to me, so did Chapter 8 about mindfulness. How often can I hear my kids in a seemingly distant voice saying, “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” trying to bring me back to the current moment. “Sorry, honey, I was worrying about tomorrow’s field trip or agonizing over yesterday’s meeting.” In this chapter, Christine gives us tips on being present through mindfulness, play, and savoring.
Drink this chapter in.
Lots of great stuff in here.
While I myself have tried some beginning meditation, trying it with my kids sounds slightly torturous. But my daughter’s first grade teacher starts school every day with a mindful meditation. They love it because they pay attention to their mood, calm themselves and prepare themselves for their day. Wow, sounds reasonable.
But Carter also talks about living in the moment with our kids in a less new agey way by simply calling out the moment and naming it. “Wow, this baseball game is so exciting, I am loving it” or “I wish this ice cream cone would last all afternoon.” These are ways we can say to our kids that we are fully present in the moment.
In fact, Carter takes this a step further in talking about “savoring” a moment—such as when we recall jokes in a movie or look at photos or retell stories about our vacation. We are extending the presence of a happy moment by making its effect more lasting.
This weekend, I sat on a porch with an old friend in Seattle and we were howling laughing at pictures of our pre-husband, pre-children life: bad bridesmaid dresses, bad haircuts, and bad boyfriends. Her kids watched us guffaw loudly. While we were having a riot ourselves (and I am sure making ourselves happier by recalling outrageously fun times), who knew we were modeling to her kids how to savor a moment?
Chapter 8 A-ha Moment: The section that caught my eye here was about why play is so beneficial to happiness. Carter talks a great deal on why this is important to kids, because play is the ultimate example of living in the moment. This all made sense. But the A-ha struck when I thought about play time. And I am not just talking about a pedicure or time with girlfriends. When was the last time you had real playfulness?
I think as we grow into “responsible adults,” playfulness becomes scarce. But a goofy, playful moment can be a real happiness spike. At Thanksgiving last year, the parents at our school played the first graders in kickball. It was hard to see who was having more fun. The reality is that when we are fully engaged in something playful, we have no space for worries or depression. Tonight when I got home I raced my kids–them on their bikes, me perilously perched on a Razor scooter. It felt great. I am bringing more of that mojo on.
Chapter 9: Control Our Kids’ Environment. It’s a paradox.
Carter explores different situations and whether or not environmental factors affect a child’s happiness. The bottom line is: yes, they do, to some degree.
But the more important point she makes in Chapter 9 is that, even if we can better control an environment for happiness, it is not necessarily a great idea to do so.
Beyond safety and a positive atmosphere (and whew, less TV people, because clearly the research is not showing any real benefits there!), our generation of parents is doing far too much to help our kids be in a “happy environment.” We talk to teachers, we ease them away from difficult friends, we lessen disappointments, and we prevent pain.
Christine reminds us that when we make everything okay for our kids, we deprive them of their chance to see what they are made of. They don’t get a chance “to develop their grit.” I liked that word and I thought that was a parenting philosophy I could get behind: I am raising kids with grit.
Grit is very closely related to resilience. Kids will learn how to cope with difficulties, understand they are capable of overcoming challenges and help them to realize that they are in control.
Chapter 9 A-ha Moment: No matter what I read about childcare, it used to cause a lot of stress. Nannies, preschools, how much is too much? What is the best approach? As a two-job family, these decisions have always seemed very loaded. I didn’t enjoy reading this piece as much, because you know what? There isn’t a perfect happiness answer on this front. I don’t want to hear the science on this. I want my husband and I to make the best choice we can and then stop ruminating over it.
Next week, we will be wrapping up our discussion of Raising Happiness with the final Chapter 10 as well as a Q&A session with the author. While you ponder responses to the topics below, please also note any questions you would love to pose to Christine directly. See you next week.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What A-ha moments, if any, did you have in Chapters 7-9?
2. Do you set enough boundaries and limits with your kids? Can you say no?
3. How do you remain present with your kids—are you playful, savoring, mindful?
4. How are you thinking about raising kids with grit?
5. What specific questions do you have for Christine Carter, the author?