What is the Secret to Happy Children?

I’ve said it before, but it is worth saying again and again, it is the small things which make memories. It is the time you spend with your children, listening to them, exploring with them, learning with them and growing together not the money you spend on them (or can’t afford to spend on them) which will leave the biggest impact. It is time, well spent, which matters.

Today’s BBC report on the well-being of children in response to UNICEF’s report four years ago makes for interesting reading. According to the report Britain’s children are among the unhappiest in the developed nations and, says UNICEF, this is down to our over emphasis on things and under emphasis on family time. The pressure is on to say ‘Yes’ to children who are bombarded with advertising and subjected to peer pressure when actually ‘No’ would be better for them, children want to feel loved and love is not all about material goods.

According to UNICEF,

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security,their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.

My eldest started his lessons with a new violin teacher yesterday and, while he was in there fiddling away, Bonus Boy and I trotted off for a walk and a talk together.

He collected acorns and gave me the cups so we can put them outside for the fairies to drink dew from. We looked at the enormous oak tree which had dropped this glorious, pocket filling bounty, and he span on the spot ‘Thank you tree!’

When we got home he gave everyone an acorn and we are all under orders to plant them along with the beech nuts he had come home from school with.

Planting things together and growing them has been one of our simple pleasures. For the last fifteen years I have pottered about in the garden with my companions and I miss them now that they are all at school. But, we still make time to grow things together, it makes us happy.

Bonus Boy planted his beans back in April

We watched the roots and shoots begin to grow

We planted some in compost too…you can see how excited he was when we measured them every day!

We planted them out into the garden and watched them grow until they were bigger than him. We talked about giants and beanstalks, we watched insects visiting to partake of their beautiful flowers and we marvelled as the beans began to grow.

Finally we harvested them

We thought they made a great beard

Or possibly a nose

But most of all we talked about how much we enjoyed growing these marvellous beans. Then we ate them and jolly nice they were too! We are saving a few pods, leaving them on the plant to brown. We will pop them open and remove their beautiful magic seeds and then, next spring, we will start the whole process all over again.

This activity has cost us pence but has been priceless.

What do you think the remedy for our unhappy children? Should advertising aimed at children be banned? How can we ensure parents have time to spend with their children and how can we help them to feel confident enough to enjoy that time? What is your favourite simple pleasure with your child/ren?



Filed under Children's Development, Family Fun, Gardening

35 responses to “What is the Secret to Happy Children?

  1. Lovely post and beautiful photos.

    I love going for bike ride’s with my 3, we take a bag and stop every now and then to pick up pine cones or sticks to bring home and make things with.

    We love to grow ( and then eat ) things as well.

    Advertising for toys should be banned and replaced with fun ideas of things to make or do outside. I’d much rather have the kids run into me and say ‘can we make such a thing’ rather than ‘can I have that’ after watching TV.

    • Thanks Emma. I love bike rides too although going as a family can be tricky with so many of us with differing abilities! DS1 is out on his bike right now on this lovely autumn evening. I’d love to see advertising at children restricted, I can’t bear it!

  2. I love this post. So many great things to do and make. Love it x

  3. I read that report today and was sad to find that it didn’t shock me. As a nation we are often forced to work and leave our children with other people as there is no such thing as a breadwinner anymore, you need to wages to ensure that you can live. My comment would be too big, so I will do a post, I had planned too anyway

  4. I reckon your kids must be amongst the happiest in the country!

    We love to walk (apart from my moans on today’s post!), and gather treasure too. I can’t wait til we’re moved. This is one of the main reasons we decided to get out of the town I’ve lived in my whole life, to a new house which is minutes from the park, the swimming pool, the library, the woods…. I’m so excited :0)

    • They can grump for England too I just don’t show you those bits! I really hope you get your housing issues resolved soon, it’s been too long! It sounds like you are moving somewhere perfect!

  5. Can I add one thing? Less interference from parents, especially in child’s play. Children often find their time filled up with activities planned and initiated by (well-meaning) parents. Time to wander about (mentally as well as physically) with or without other children is precious.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I also think allowing children to be bored is a good thing, it makes them come up with things to do rather than relying on easy entertainment and other people. Thanks so much for commenting.

      • Being bored – so agree. Any of ours who utter “I’m bored” are shown the door and invited to go outside and play – which to be fair they usually do, and come back ages later. (We live in the country so we are very fortunate to have lots of space). I remember thinking I was intensely bored as a child but looking back, it really signalled lack of pressure to be always doing something – time was my own and I filled it with outdoor “mucking about” (again lucky – brought up in African bush). We know so many children now who have their days crammed with activities and every spare minute must be filled with doing something….unnecessary pressure.

        Thanks for posing the question, many thoughtful responses.

        • Thank you for your comments, I nodded all the way throught the above (and envied you your African bush childhood). I remember lying on my back watching clouds for hours on end, lying on my front reading endless Enid Blyton books and not having to be anywhere. I still love that now (I’ve moved on from Enid obviously but my daughter is reading them). Time just to be. Precious and essential for well being.

  6. What a lovely blog post and very thought provoking. We all want the very best for our children, but sometimes forget the big picture. You are such a lovely mum. I try my best to do creative things with my 4 yo and not get consumed by all things shiny and expensive.

    • I think it’s all about letting them play, letting them get bored, being there when they need you and listening when they talk. It doesn’t take much time but repays you handsomely! Thanks for commenting.

  7. I have idea what the answer is but I agree, the best memories come from time spent together doing things together

    I was really quite upset to read that parents are preferring to buy things for their children rather than do things together – 10 minutes reading before bedtime isn’t such a huge commitment and will be the stuff of lovely memories, I’m prepared to bet nobody will remember a DS or similar in 20 years time

    • I think there is huge pressure on parents to ‘do the right thing’ rather than just being the best parents they are and not trying to compete with anyone else. As you say, it’s just a little bit of time well spent and it makes everyone feel good! (although I think mine will remember their DSs, they love them!)

  8. Great post and helps to remind us to take pleasure in what’s around us. Spending time with the kids is really important but I find it easy to get bogged down in cleaning up, cooking etc and find it hard sometimes just to play and let the other things go. I’m making an effort though to do free fun things that they all really want to do. On the way home from school today we went and kicked leaves, collected acorns and baked cakes. They are now in the garden making a potion – I’m a bit scared to see what’s in it but at least they are out and having fun. Today’s gone well and hopefully by aiming to do just one thing a day, we’ll end up doing more and all be happier!

    • Potion making is hard to beat! There are various buckets of questionable stuff all over the place here. I enjoyed watching DD and BB flying off on a feather duster recently…it is extendable so when he wanted a ride she zipped out the extension and off they flew!

  9. I think the secret to happy children is feeling loved and valued. For me, I’ve learnt to log off and switch off and enjoy spending time just being with my daughter. I’m lucky in that I work from home, but that will change soon and I think when I’m out until 6pm every night it will be a lot harder, but I’ll make it work. As I type this my daughter is sitting next to me playing on her DS with her headphones on. At least we’re together!

  10. What a lovely post and gorgeous photos. I love to get my kids outdoors — it seems to get harder the older they get though so then I try and look for one on one ways to spend with them even if it is just the drive to their football or piano practice. I like to laugh a lot so I do try and get them to find the humour in everything.

  11. Conker hunting at the moment is our favourite activity. I think a child is happy if they are secure in their environment and knowing that they are loved. Anything else is surplus.

    • Conkers are so beautiful, like chocolate, I adore them! (I’m also hoping their spider repelling properties are real and I am scattering them around the house like a mad lady) Security and love are key, thank you.

  12. On Sunday while my middle one was swimming my eldest and I went for a walk. We found an orchard and we picked an apple. We shared it and talked as we walked. It was lovely. Money cannot buy that.

  13. The “stuff” thing is my personal bug bear and I have a “real problem” with local mums here… it is always stuff stuff and they just chuck money at problems (e.g. Son is scared of water, let’s get swimming lessons – what happened to taking the swimming yourself and having some family fun with them??!). Grrr. I worry that these local mum’s children will (are) my son’s friends and that the materialism will rub off on him and he will always feel I was “mean” and “wouldn’t let him have stuff” (when in fact I think he has too much already).

    Wish I could send this post AND the BBC’s posts to the mum’s in question, but fear it wouldn’t go down too well…eeek.

    (Certainly can’t send them this post now that I have made this comment.. hahahaha)

    • Peer pressure is a problem, there’s no doubt about it but children do respect boundaries and as long as you can tell him ‘why’ not just ‘no’ (which I know you will do!) he will understand. He may grump and that is fine and you may have to compromise sometimes if his argument is equally valid. It’s a tough one, no doubt about it! I’m sure you will handle it very well M! x

      • Aah thank you for your vote of confidence Chris😉 and yes, I think he knows he gets time with us – i.e. he DOES go swimming with Daddy, rather than get “left on his own in a swimming class”… when it comes to stuff… we will have to deal with it as and when (having said that, I find he does ask LESS than his friends at the moment, so surely that is a good sign). And when it comes to joint present giving, I will ask for practical things… (can you believe it, I am in a present giving rota with these mums?!?? Tried to stop it several times, but to no avail!)

  14. Scootering along and racing back to me . All 3 of ius holding hands as we wallk to school taking over the pavement. Sharing our memories of grandma and blowing kidsses to heaven. Painting our seasonal picture to hang in the kitchen. My kids are the people i would most choose to spemd my life with. I make sure they know it too.

  15. What an adorable post! Coincidentally, I’d been thinking about this exact thing yesterday so when Dexter came downstairs, bored, I asked if he wanted to play. He looked so excited because there’s always something else I could be doing – housework wise or on the laptop. We sat in his bedroom and had a battle. My weapon? Pants and socks. His? Pieces of paper. I taught him how to make paper aeroplanes. They were all wonky and didn’t fly very well but he seemed to have fun. He said to me this morming, “Remember when we had fun last night having a pant and plane battle in my bedroom? Was brilliant wasn’t it.”

  16. Andrea

    I too grew up in Africa with no TV etc and was never bored. My children were raised in Canada and best times were out doors camping, boating picnicking and playing games🙂 Building snow men and digging snow tunnels kept everyone warm in winter. Lying outside and watching meteorites and northern lights took up many an evening. Nature is free and has a calming effect on everyone. Time spent with children is valuable. My daughter says her favourite memories are coming home from school to the smell of baking. Banana bread is cheaper than take away🙂 Also the word bored was never allowed – there was always dishes or dusting to do for any children who dared utter the “b” word🙂🙂

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