Happy Mommy, Happy Baby: How to Raise Happy Kids without Losing Your Sanity

Working mothers who rely on babysitters or daycare centers to look after their kids while they are at work may not see how babysitting can lead someone to lose her sanity — or maybe they do, that’s why they work hard so they can get the best babysitter to do the job for them.

Whether or not you are a working mom, or whether or not you enjoy babysitting, you inevitably find yourself alone with your child — or children — every once in a while, and small children in there preschool years are quite challenging to handle. The first few minutes can pass by smoothly but once they lose their interest on a certain activity, which can happen pretty quickly among very young kids, they begin to turn to you for attention and it’s easy to lose your temper when you, too, are engaged in a different activity such as doing the dishes, preparing a meal or sending emails. Before times like these can happen, remember that while scientific research show how temperamental traits are hereditary, modeling behavior still play a significant role in raising kids.

How mommy reacts or responds to a particular situation is better ‘understood’ and usually followed  by the tiny person next to her than when she says, “You don’t have to yell. You know it’s not nice to yell. You can talk to me about it without yelling.” Apparently it’s true, that happy mommies are highly likely to raise happy babies; polite, soft-spoken mommies (or daddies) raise polite, soft-spoken babies, and parents who are easily irritated and raise their voice unnecessarily have babies who tend to do the same.

Let’s face it, happy kids are easier to handle and fun to be with and as an added bonus, aunts and relatives who come to visit volunteer to babysit them and even take them outside because they’re simply adorable, people can’t get enough of them. So if you want to know how to raise happy kids, the following tips can be helpful.

Plan ahead. As a working mom, I seldom get to spend an entire day with my boys and so when we’re all at home during weekends, I try to maximize those two days to be truly present in their lives. But what about laundry? What about tidying up the kitchen or tending the garden? What about ‘me’ time and going out with friends? Shouldn’t taking care of yourself first be your priority so you can better take care of the ones you love? True. Which is why planning ahead is necessary. My kids are all boys, aged 10 and 4, so I guess you could say that it took me ten years to figure this one out (it’s either I’m a slow learner or a stubborn grownup who insisted on doing it the ‘usual way’ until I finally came to accept that the usual way just doesn’t work).

My boys -- Jun Edward, aged 4 and Luis Antonio, aged 10 -- waiting for our guide to lead them out of the forest during our visit to the giant bats sanctuary one weekend.
My boys — Jun Edward, aged 4 and Luis Antonio, aged 10 — waiting for our guide to lead them out of the forest during our visit to the giant bats sanctuary one weekend.

And so to save myself and my boys from unending frustration, I knew I had to incorporate a little planning into my parenting. Children’s daily routine change depending on their age, but it doesn’t change much over a few years so if you’re attentive enough you’ll see that they have a pretty much predictable behavior within a particular day. Perhaps then you can plan your day around that. For a typical Saturday, for instance, you can draw a schedule that looks like something like this:

5:00 a.m., get up and meditate

5:30 a.m., prepare breakfast

6:00 a.m., shower and get dressed

7:00 a.m., BREAKFAST

9:00 a.m., garden with kids

10:00 a.m., do the laundry

11:00 a.m. prepare lunch

12:00 noon, LUNCH

1:00 p.m. read (paint, draw, color with kids)

2:00 p.m., nap time for kids

4:00 p.m. tea time at the garden or patio with spouse or friends

5:00 p.m., prepare dinner

6:00 p.m., DINNER

7:00 p.m. play board games with the family, or watch a family-friendly movie

9:00 p.m., put the kids to bed

Draw up a Plan B (or C and D). Things don’t always go the way we plan and the sooner we accept this, the happier we (and the people around us) can move on with our lives. What if  Junior wakes up before the table is even set? When I was younger I always wanted things to go my way. No one should disturb me while I’m in the kitchen so we can eat on time, and so someone’s got to watch over the kids while I’m chopping onions and waiting for the rice cook at the same time (and that someone often had a name… was it Hubby or Husband?). You can allow your imagination to picture out possible scenarios when things didn’t go my way. Of course there were times when I didn’t want to nag or fight, and so when someone wasn’t there to look after the kids while I’m in the kitchen I would turn on the TV or have them play with electronic gadgets — typical nanny substitutes.

But I have to admit these weren’t very good options and I felt terrible whenever I had to do it. And so after more planning (and several guilt trips later), I thought maybe I could gather some strength and try working on my patience. If one of the kids get up while I’m still in the kitchen, perhaps I can have him help me! Yes, they can sometimes slow you down and even make such unimaginable mess, but isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Have kids learn to do household chores? What else would you rather do or where else would rather be, really?

And so I tried to be a bit more flexible with my schedule and gave room for the unexpected. Last Saturday, for instance, I was alone at home with our four-year-old while Hubby and our eldest were at the farm. It was time to prepare for lunch and the little boy prefers to be with me rather than watch TV or play alone and so instead of complaining how clingy the kid still is or how difficult it is not to have a babysitter, I took it as an opportunity to bond with the kid and teach him something.

My four-year-old learns how to chop: Hold the knife with one hand, keep the tip on the board and let the other do the chopping. The fingers of the other hand should stay together on top of the blunt edge of the knife to keep it steady and should stay high above the board to board to prevent them from getting chopped along with the vegetables.
My four-year-old learns how to chop: hold the knife with one hand, keep the tip of the knife on the board and move the other end up and down to chop vegetables. The fingers of the other hand should stay together on top of the blunt edge of the knife to keep it steady and should stay high above the board to prevent them from getting chopped along with the vegetables.

Many mommies argue as to when children should be allowed to handle knives in the kitchen. Four might seem too soon, but I say it all depends on the child’s readiness. That particular morning, the boy seemed calm and really interested and so while I was chopping vegetables on the kitchen sink, I had him help. You could see his interest in the way he listens to and follows your instructions. He wasn’t allowed to chop unsupervised, of course, and his involvement was limited to finely chopping previously sliced vegetables only until he gets used to using the knife. After we’ve chopped the veggies, I asked him to help me wrap them but he didn’t like helping me wrap the vegetables as his tiny fingers aren’t up to wrapping yet and so while I finished in the kitchen, he went out to play with the family pet as he waited to be called back in for lunch.

Prepare different sets of toys for different activities. When we were kids, we were mostly left to ourselves to play with other children in the neighborhood after lunch while mother cleared the table and washed the dishes. After she has washed she would either call us in so we can take a nap or just leave us while she sat with the other women in front of the TV to watch their favorite soap. I don’t mean to sound very blunt but I realized only lately that in this part of the planet, this is one of those perfect times for childhood accidents to happen — kids get bitten by stray dogs, or ran over by reckless under-aged drivers in the neighborhood or get ‘experimented with’ by older kids inside a playhouse. Gruesome scenario, but it’s true, and I didn’t realize how common this actually is until I heard other parents in the public school where I work talk about it.

They say no place is safe for small children — girls or boys — and so instead of being thankful for the free time you get when they’re happily playing with other kids outside, think about what you can do instead to keep you from having regrets later.

Children need to associate with other kids; this is how they learn to socialize.
Children need to associate with other kids; this is how they learn to socialize.

Children in their pre-school age should be encouraged to play with other children; this is how they learn to socialize, but they should never be left alone without adult supervision. Playdates are a perfect setting for kids to learn how to share their toys and structured play can teach them how to play by the rules and work in a team. But different families have different values and it’s easy for your kids to learn a new language or behavior not acceptable in your family, and so whenever my little boy feels like playing with other kids, I have them play in the backyard while I work on my laptop nearby; where I can hear or see them and intervene when necessary.

Model good behavior. The dining table is one of the best places in the house where children learn good manners. We always teach children not to talk when their mouth is full, and the best way to teach this is to show them how. Another thing some mommies like their kids to develop is  healthy eating habits. Healthy meals take time to prepare and working mothers who don’t have housemaids are easily tempted to pile up on processed food that they can conveniently shove into the microwave oven in the morning. But common sense tells us this isn’t simply right, and it’s just downright wrong to regularly feed our growing children these junk. And so I thought perhaps it’s high time I should lead my family into slowly developing healthy eating habits. I have to admit this is somewhat difficult for me because I never was a healthy eater. Only when my kids arrived did I have the motivation to stay healthy for them and keep them healthy at the same time.

And so if we want our kids to love vegetables, we have to include vegetables in our daily meals and when one of them tries even one bite of broccoli or a cauliflower, I would say, “Wow! I’m happy you’re eating your vegetable. That’s very healthy for you.” Now, I don’t know if you have one those bootlicker kids, but I do and when one of us adults would appreciate one behavior, this kid would usually do more. Behaviorists call this the power of reinforcement.

This technique can be quite effective in reinforcing many other types of behavior and attitude — sleeping on time, being responsible for one’s toys, being polite and respectful of other people, taking interest in reading or gardening, and even adopting a happy and positive outlook in life! On the contrary, there is also danger in reinforcing or modeling negative, unpleasant behavior so we must constantly be on guard which actions and attitude we recognize or display. Based on experience, I would say modeling good behavior is far more effective than merely teaching it.

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My sister Christina’s firstborn, Juanito Sandro. Christina had a good temperament when she was little and this tiny baby seems to have that trait, too.

They don’t call them bundles of joy for nothing. Children can indeed bring us priceless joy and surprise us with their innocent way of looking at things. All we need to do is give them the kind of attention they deserve and keep them safe, healthy and happy.

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