Using Positive Psychology in Parenting

happy Asian familyPositive psychology (PP) is that branch of psychology that studies what promotes emotional experiences of joy and cognitive experiences of meaning. Instead of asking the question that clinical psychology traditionally asks (i.e., “how can problem x be healed?”) PP wonders, “what can each of us do to feel happy and satisfied?” As parents we do well to both model and teach these strategies to our kids.

Parenting walk and talk are both important. However, the walk seems to matter more. In this context, how happy we are has a great deal to do with how much energy we have for parenting and how often we parent with intention (i.e., doing and saying those things that we most wish to do and say, instead of reacting out of fatigue or pain). Moreover, our kids our affected by our modeling in profoundly impactful ways, and often in a manner that is outside of their awareness The type of world we live in (i.e., mostly happy versus something else) predicts the type of world they live in and the type of world they will live in in the future.

Below are my 10 favorite PP strategies to practice and to teach your kids about:

• Practice gratitude. This can be by way of a daily, weekly, monthly or intermittent practice. This can be an internal event (e.g., counting one’s daily blessings before bed or in the shower) or a specific exercise (e.g., writing a gratitude letter).

• Practice acts of kindness. The “helper’s high” is an empirically established happy black woman backgroundphenomenon. This can be done in simple ways both with strangers (e.g., paying for the coffee of someone behind you in the drive through) or loved ones (e.g., doing someone else’s chore) or can be more elaborate (e.g., volunteering at a pet shelter, taking a loved one to a vacation spot they’ve been aching to visit).

• Think adaptively. This can involve using coping thoughts to lift your mood (i.e., keeping true thoughts in mind that give you energy) or thought testing to reduce the impact of painful thoughts that are not true.

• Use your strengths. This supposes that you know what your top strengths are. You then make sure to use them on a regular basis, preferably weaving them into your vocational life.

• Be mindful. This involves tuning into the details of the moment of time you are in—and I mean all of the minutia of the moment. Cognitive and affective pain tend to live in the past and the future while peace tends to live in the present.

joyful couple• Live by the crisis = pain + opportunity formula. When hammers hit give them their due (i.e., experience the pain without denial or suppression) but then look for the opportunity that is always there, and to a dose that usually surpasses the dosing of the pain.

• Forgive. Forgiving is like flushing a toxin out of the body. It can also produce profound experiences of meaning.

• Sleep, eat and exercise well.

• Be kind to yourself. If what you tell yourself about yourself were all written out in a book what would the overall tenor be? This strategy includes talking to yourself the way you would have others talk to your child.

• Practice the serenity prayer. (You can be an atheist and benefit from this.) This practice combats codependency and helps you to have an adaptive response when you experience injustice. (I’m convinced that the more a person lives a high road life the more that person will experience injustice.)

Want to learn more about these strategies? I have three suggestions:glasses and book

#1: Enter what you want to know more about in the search bar above. I’ve written articles on several of these techniques; some of those blog entries also include suggestions for further reading.

#2: Read my parenting book. I end each chapter with specific exercises for parents from the positive psychology literature.

#3: Sorry, this one is only for people who live by me in Northeastern PA. This June and July (2014) I will be running an 8-session happiness seminar. To learn more, visit

Good luck!


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