How Do You Get Contented Babies and Happy Children?
Probably the one thing that we have had the most comments about when our children were babies is that they were very happy, and even now they still are like that (most of the time!). It’s obviously not the sort of thing that is easy to figure out, because there are any number of things that could contribute to the smiles on their faces! However there are some things that are more obvious, and I have a few thoughts on it. I would love to hear what your thoughts are too.
This is the most obvious factor to me. If a baby doesn’t get quite enough sleep he will often be OK but just not be as happy generally, and harder to deal with. If a toddler doesn’t get enough sleep he will get more upset about things that normally don’t bother him, and preschoolers will become whiney. I tried letting Hope stay up for half an hour longer recently, and I noticed that she started whining about a lot of things. In the end I realised the cause and resorted to the old bedtime!
What I have done with all our children is to find out from reliable sources roughly how much sleep they need at that age and then make sure they are in bed for the right times. Sometimes it means I have to be strict, but I believe it is worth it as if they get enough sleep it makes them happier, and I am sure it helps them with learning and alertness and relating to each other as well. For babies I used The Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford to tell me how much sleep they needed. I didn’t stick to all the routines exactly, but it was very useful guide for sleeping patterns and nap times. As they got a bit older I started using her Complete Sleep Guide For Contented Babies and Toddlers. Everytime the children would start waking up early, or not going down well, or waking up in the night, I would get that book out and look at what to do. She has all the different ages and various causes of sleeping problems and what to do about them which helped enormously with keeping them all sleeping through the night (for the most part!).
I have always had our children on a routine for feeding and sleeping from day 1, and I found that as babies they knew exactly when their next feed was coming and would be happy right up until that time! You do have to be careful if you are nursing that they are getting enough milk, but there are ways of doing that, and I think it can actually help nursing to go a lot better as you don’t get so worn out from demand feeding. My favourite books for routines with babies are The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg, Babywise by Gary Ezzo and The Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford. I didn’t stick to any of these exactly but used my own common sense as well, and I didn’t ever let them go hungry if they needed milk, even if it was at an unusual time. I know that with babies it is a controversial issue, and I don’t at all think that you have to do this… but I do think that generally it can make them happier to know when everything is.
As they get older a routine is also great for keeping them from being bored and getting up to mischief – although they still do get up to mischief, just not quite as much!! If you look at how nurseries are run they are on a routine, and schools as well. At the same time though, I don’t stick like glue to the routine – I think it is important to be flexible. I use it more as a guide to work from and we will often change things around on different days, and with the children I allow lots of pad time to allow for the inevitable nappy changes, messes and other delightful occurrences!
Smiles and Fun
I don’t have a lot of time to just play with the children but I try to have fun with them while we are going about our day. When they were babies my goal used to be to try and get them to smile as much as I could, so I would always be making silly faces at them and playing peekaboo while changing their nappy! The Bible says to ‘Rejoice always’ 1 Thess 5:16, so I always try to be joyful no matter what else is going on, and try to put a good slant on the bad things that happen so that I don’t become discouraged, as it is better for the children if I am happy. One example is that when there is milk spilt (or worse!) on the carpet I will get the carpet cleaner out and think to myself – ‘Well at least this bit of carpet will have been cleaned!’. I also try to stay patient, which is easier said than done! If I get impatient then I quickly lose my joy and snap at the kids – then they start crying and we are all sad. But I keep reminding myself to stay calm, and I often pray, ‘Lord, give me your patience’.
Consistent and Loving Discipline
I always remember my mum and dad telling me as I grew up to make sure when I had children that I disciplined them consistently, and it is really so important. I think they are a lot happier when they know where the boundaries are. So that means if I tell them not to do something, and they do it, then a consequence follows. And if I threaten them with a consequence then I make sure it is carried out. Otherwise they are never quite sure whether they should obey or not. I believe another key thing here is to make the punishment quick and not long and drawn out, so that they don’t stay upset for a long time, and I always hug them straight afterwards so that they know I still love them and there is no break in our relationship. My favourite book on discipline is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp.
A Loving Family
I think as a Christian family we have a big advantage because we have the Holy Spirit in us helping us to have Christlike love, not just human love. And we can also tell the children how God loves them, and His angels are watching over them. Our family is stable and we love each other so I believe that helps them to feel secure and loved. And we do our best to show our love to them and help them to know we love them even when they have been naughty, and never to say anything that would make them think otherwise.
Teaching them not to be Self-Centred
We always notice that on days when we go all out to bless the children and make it all about them, there is a lot of whining! We tried to figure out how can could be? I think it is because they get into the habit of it all being about them, and when we think like that we are never satisfied but always want more. I was reading in Ecclesiastes 5:10 recently where it says ‘He who loves money will not be satisfied with money’ – we get some, and then we want more. Clint is really good at teaching the children to be givers and give what they have, and we also encourage them to share, and to look out for how they can be helpful, as well as having chores to do. This all makes them less focused on themselves and more on others – which I believe gives them much greater happiness.
I know there are probably more causes of happy children, but these are the ones that came to my mind as some of the more likely ones.
What have you observed that makes children and babies happy and contented? I would love to hear your thoughts too!