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Child-Raising: the Success-Happiness Correlation

26/05/2015 10:03 BST | Updated 15/05/2016 10:59 BST

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My youngest son with his grandfather: this photograph captures my definition of success.

What is success?

We have brought up five kids, my children's father and I. I had my first child whilst I was still at school, and the others came in rapid succession when I was at University.

Of course, we didn't have maids.

Our family became something of a minor celebrity in Asia, where we moved to ten years ago. My youngest child couldn't read properly until she was 8, and I was anti tuition. It was an alien concept to me, these hours of additional studying, just to make sure our kids get higher marks in exams than other similarly hothoused (but not necessarily smarter) kids. What in the blazes for??

So we opted out of the gold rush and taught our kids how to plant bananas instead.

My children's father did not come from a rich background, so we were not insouciant because of the privilege of wealth. His father was a bus-driver who had to hold down three jobs at one stage to keep the family housed, clothed and fed. Not many boys from my children's father's school went on to further education. He was one of those who did.

We brought our children up against the tide. I am sure many people think we are insane, thus it is nice to read a new research and listen to a TED talk that corroborates what we have always believed in (http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2014/09/be-more-successful/). In a nutshell, it is about a child's happiness. This thesis is by Shawn Anchor, on the subject of happiness and success. This happiness thing is a big deal these days - prominent professors of economics have published research on it. Check out the Centre for Economics Performance at London School of Economics - lots of research here on the subject of happiness.

Happiness brings success. Not my words, but Shawn Anchor's (a view shared by various psychologists in the field). Shawn looked at a low socio-economic school in Chicago where academic grades were below average, yet a couple of students have skyrocketing grades. That was enough to pull my interest, as my children's father went to a similar school.

Optimism

Anchor's definition: the belief that your behaviour matters in the midst of challenge. Yes, it is the mindset. Does your kid crumple into a heap and is paralysed when life deals him with a blow?

My children's father always tells our kids, "Don't worry, be happy."

I have to rein in the Asian Tiger Mum in me sometimes. "Waaah, doan worry??? Got Chemistry exam tomorrow, wor, Ah Beng!"

As proof that mums are always right, the afore-mentioned child dropped a grade or two for entry to the degree course of his choice. But with his father's eternal sunshine burning forever bright in him, he took the train to Southampton and asked for his place on the highly competitive engineering degree course.

"You will drop out," his pessimistic mum predicted. "It's a tough course, and I won't be around to nag you. The bottom line is, you have to convince me that you really want it before I help you financially."

Thus, he did it in his own way and on his own terms: he went out to get a sponsorship for the three years of his degree course. And his masters degree.

Social connection

Anchor's definition: whether or not you have depth and breadth in your social relationships.

The first thing I thought about when I read this sentence was oh no, networking and all that rubbish. But no, the author of this study actually meant one's ability to form meaningful relationships.

Anchor found that students who live in the library and eat meals in their rooms do not perform better. They are more likely to suffer burnout.

Stress

Basically, what you see as stress is a block to success.

What I see is parents (and often school) adding on to a kid's stress.

This is one thing I have observed: some stress is good, but if you get the ingredients right, that sort of organic stress comes from within a child who wants to do well, rather than out of fear of letting the parents down.

My six ways of raising a happy child:

1. Enjoy your child - find things to do with them that are not goal-related

2. Talk to each other on car journeys

3. Find time to do nothing

4. Play the yogi laughter game - lie on each other's tummies and laugh non-stop for 1 minute - at least once a fortnight

5. Thank your child for the small things he/she does for you

6. Spend time outdoors in nature, much as you may dislike it.

Full article published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com