The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World

With all the parenting information out there, it seems as if many parents have lost track how to raise happy kids.

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Karsen: From The Parent’s Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. Written by Katie Hurley, LCSW.

In this title, child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting expert Katie Hurley shows parents how happiness is the key to raising confident, capable children by parenting the individual child. She provides parents a guide with strategies to meet their child’s needs from a social-emotional perspective.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, there seems to be a ton of parenting styles and different parenting advice out there, it can be overwhelming. How do you choose what advice is best?

Vincent: Exactly, it is overwhelming. We all just want to be the best parents we can be. The author points out that while you’re trying to figure out who’s right when it comes to your child, you forget about consulting the one greatest expert on your child’s needs-- and that’s your child.

She doesn’t mean you should give your child everything they want but the way to raise a happy and confident child is to listen to them, encourage them to explore, and express their emotions.

Karsen: So by tuning into your child, they will almost teach you or show you how they need to be raised.

Vincent: Exactly. That’s why it’s sometimes more difficult to follow traditional approaches to parenting, since it's not one size fits all. Your child is unique and should be raised around their unique needs.

Karsen: Growing up with siblings, my parents would do their best to show us their love fairly. How can you parent fairly when you are trying to parent each child to fit their needs?

Vincent: It doesn’t mean you parent each of your children exactly the same, but you put the same amount of effort into meeting their needs in accordance with their personalities. The author gives an example of this. Say you have a son and a daughter and want to make sure they share your love equally. You divide your attention equally between them and never cuddle one child without cuddling the other. Then you wonder why your son is distant when you talk to him and squirms out of your hugs. This could be because you’re not meeting his needs in the right way. It’s possible that he doesn’t need lots of interaction and physical affection to be happy. While on the other hand, your daughter wants to engage with you all day.

Karsen: So by spending lots of time chatting with your daughter and less with your son, you’re actually not being unfair?

Vincent: Yes, you’re being the opposite. You are ensuring that each of your unique kids is equally happy. You want to embrace every aspect of your child’s character even if it means giving them space because they get overwhelmed by a lot of cuddling.

Karsen: So there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. Okay we know children are unique and it's vital to respect their needs but how do you do this in practice?

Vincent: According to the author, the first thing you need to do is learn about them.  When it comes to personality, everyone is made up of both extroverted and introverted traits.

Karsen: If your child is more introverted, say they tend to retreat to their bedroom to reenergize alone, it would be more difficult for them to share with you. More extroverted children have an easier time sharing their needs which may make it easier to feel like you understand them. But, how do more introverted children to open up so you can learn more about them?

Vincent: That’s a great question. Raising introverted children comes with challenges but Hurley gives us 2 strategies to keep in mind to help.

First, it’s vital to help your child feel comfortable sharing their feelings. Introverts naturally process their feelings internally, which is fine. But, it can cause problems if they fail to ask for help when they really need it. If they keep quiet about something they're unhappy about, that bottles up until they can’t cope anymore and can lead to an emotional outburst.

Karsen: Then, how can you avoid these outbursts?

Vincent: Your child can make a habit of sharing emotions by writing their emotions down in a feelings book. Have them write down several emotions like love, envy, happiness, and anger. Then ask them to draw a situation where they experienced each of these feelings in their book.

Karsen: Then you and your child can discuss these feelings and experiences.

Vincent: That's exactly what Hurley says to do. This technique won’t turn your child into an extrovert overnight, but it reinforces the ability to feel safe to share their feelings whenever they need to.

Then the second important thing to remember when raising an introverted child is that criticism should be given gently and in private.

Karsen: That makes sense since introverted kids are sensitive and get embarrassed easily.

Vincent: Yes, that's why the author says criticizing your child in front of others is the last thing you should do because it will upset them and make them want to hide. They already feel uncomfortable with attention. Address issues in private and make sure they feel safe and cared for during the discussion.

Karsen: Both of those are good strategies for parenting introverted children. What about extroverted children? What does the author say about parenting lively, impulsive, and outgoing kids?

Vincent: The author says the key here is to help your child balance their energy and movement with letting off steam and learning to relax. When parenting an extroverted child talking and sharing is vital because they process their emotions externally. They  cope with challenging feelings by sharing them with you by talking things out. Beyond sharing feelings, talking things out may be helpful when they are solving homework problems, rather than doing them alone in their room.

Karsen: Being an extroverted child, I relate to this. Extroverted kids have a lot of energy, what are some ways you can help them burn off steam and relax?

Vincent: Physical activity is a great outlet. Exercise, whether it's playing a sport or running around the park, helps stimulate their brain so they will feel calmer and more focused afterward. They will benefit greatly from learning relaxation skills because even the most energetic ones need downtime.

Hurley says sometimes they don’t know how to calm themselves down which is where you come in. Set up a calming routine that best suits them. Some resources to try range from child-friendly yoga, breathing exercises, to therapeutic coloring books.

Karsen: That has me thinking about how fun playtime was as a kid. But, I know a lot of parents who see play as a waste of time or something that distracts them from other things like schoolwork. Is this true according to the author?

Vincent: Actually no, play is central to a healthy childhood. You’re right, play is the best and a lot of key skills are learned from play. Through fun and games, children learn to relate to each other, share, compromise, and solve conflicts.

Think of when you meet another adult for the first time. You go through the motions of introducing yourselves, shaking hands and sharing what you do for a living. When kids meet each other, they make contact by joining one another’s games.

Karsen: That's very true, many life skills are first established through playing and interacting with other kids. Beyond social skills, are there other benefits to play?

Vincent: Yes, playing also can be a form of therapy. Play is a way for kids to understand and express their feelings. Children who don’t feel comfortable expressing anger or sadness directly can use puppets, toys or playing pretend to express themselves. As a psychotherapist, the author has good examples of how this works.

One she talks about in the book is when her young patient used playing dolls to express her emotions. While playing, they let a doll test out the different ways of expressing sadness and anger from running away from her adopted parents to shouting at them. This helped her and her therapist gain a better understanding of her negative emotions which in turn helped the child explain her feelings instead of acting out.

Karsen: Going off of expressing negative emotions through playing, as a parent how else can you help kids understand that negative emotions are a part of life?

Vincent: Many parents attempt to reject their child’s unhappiness because they don’t want to see their child fearful, upset, or angry. Parents often feel bewildered and irritated by their child’s strong negative reactions. While this comes from wanting them to be happy, in turn, children learn that it’s only acceptable to share positive emotions.

The author gives an example of a time she was at the mall around Easter and witnessed several toddlers crying in fear after seeing someone in a bunny costume. The parents were visibly annoyed and told their kids to stop making a fuss, instead of comforting them.

Karsen: Wow, thinking about this I can see how that would lead children to mask or repress their negative feelings because their parents’ reactions signify that these emotions are “bad.”

Vincent: That was eye-opening for me, too. Although parents don’t want to see their children in these states, all emotions -pleasant or painful- are natural parts of childhood and adult life. Parents have the role of helping their kids learn to understand and deal with all emotions. Younger kids have a hard time identifying and managing their reactions and may feel overwhelmed.

Karsen: What would have been a better way for the parents to respond in the example with the Easter Bunny?

Vincent: The author says that if a toddler cries because they are scared of the Easter bunny, their parent could tell them something like “Oh dear, you’re upset. You must be scared because of that bunny. But he won’t hurt you! You’re safe here with me.”

This helps the child understand where their feelings are coming from, that it’s okay to feel like that, but also that they’re safe to stop feeling that way.

Karsen: It sounds like as a parent you don’t necessarily encourage negative emotions but show your child that their feelings are valid and accepting them will help them cope when they do feel negative emotions.

Vincent: That’s right, and that leads to the importance of parents as role models to develop empathy skills. Hurley says that the ability to empathize with someone’s situation and perspective is more skill than an instinct, and parents are there to help children learn it. This can be shown by respecting their feelings, listening to them without interrupting, and showing that you understand and care.

Karsen: It makes sense that parents serve as important role models of empathy but what about other people in their lives they may see as role models like siblings?

Vincent: Yes parents can also enlist older siblings to help teach empathy. Kids may struggle to relate to the adult lives of parents and teachers, so siblings and older kids are also role models. Ask siblings to help your younger child learn empathy by encouraging them to share their emotions or talk through what they are feeling. This not only creates valuable relationships but your child will learn a lot.

Karsen: Another thing kids struggle coping with is stress. How can parents help their kids deal with stress?

Vincent: One thing the author says is important to remember is that some things can be stressful for our kids without us realizing it. For example, you may be used to watching the news and seeing disasters, but to your child that’s terrifying. So parents should be cognizant of extra stress that may go unnoticed. Secondly, the role of schoolwork plays into your child’s stress. With school and extracurriculars, kids can stress themselves out because they have no time to wind down.

Karsen: That’s very true, so how can you decrease stress in these cases?

Vincent: One way is to plan time in the week to relax. This is crucial because stress can harm your child’s physical and mental health. Stressed-out kids are also at risk of suffering anxiety and depression, causing their home, social and academic lives to suffer. This also reinforces the importance of encouraging your child to decompress by doing things like relaxation breathing or going on a walk.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that raising your child is about letting them thrive in their own ways. Get to know their unique personality and learn about their specific needs. Be a role model they can learn from and above all, give them the freedom they need to play and grow.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

Vincent: And I’m Vincent Phamvan.

Karsen: We’ll see you next time.


With all the parenting information out there and the constant pressure to be the “perfect” parent, it seems as if many parents have lost track of one very important piece of the parenting puzzle: raising happy kids.

Parenting today has gotten far too complicated. It’s never been the easiest job in the world, but with all the “parenting advice” parents are met with at every corner, it’s hard not to become bewildered. It seems that in the past it was a good deal simpler. You made sure there was dinner on the table and the kids got to school on time and no one set anything on fire, and you called it a success. But today everybody has a different method for dealing with the madness–attachment parenting, free-range parenting, mindful parenting. And who is to say one is more right or better than another? How do you choose?

The truth is that whatever drumbeat you march to, all parents would agree that we just want our kids to be happy. It seems like a no-brainer, right? But in the face of all the many parenting theories out there, happiness feels like it has become incidental. That’s where The Happy Kid Handbook by child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting expert Katie Hurley comes in. She shows parents how happiness is the key to raising confident, capable children. It’s not about giving in every time your child wants something so they won’t feel bad when you say no, or making sure that they’re taking that art class, and the ballet class, and the soccer class (to help with their creativity and their coordination and all that excess energy).

Happiness is about parenting the individual, because not every child is the same, and not every child will respond to parenting the same way. By exploring the differences among introverts, extroverts, and everything in between, this definitive guide to parenting offers parents the specific strategies they need to meet their child exactly where he or she needs to be met from a social-emotional perspective. A back-to-basics guide to parenting, The Happy Kid Handbook is a must-have for any parent hoping to be the best parent they can be.

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