By Marie Pfeifer
Need help sorting out advice on how to raise your children? It’s simple, according to Dr. Edward Hallowell.
Hallowell, father of three, clinical psychiatrist and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, told his audience at Morristown High School on Wednesday that the greatest gift parents and teachers can give children is happiness.
It’s what all parents want for their children, but how to achieve it? Are the roots of lifelong happiness found in test scores and the school you attend, or in personal wealth, traveling athletic teams and expensive tutoring?
Hallowell advises parents to have a plan–preferably, the five-step plan outlined in his book. At first blush it almost sounds too simplistic. The first and most important step, he said, is connectedness.
Unconditional love from parents gives children a foundation of security. Close ties to extended family members, and feeling part of their school is all about connectedness. He highly recommends pets as a way for children to learn to connect by giving love and care.
Playing, which seems to have disappeared from the landscape of child-rearing, is very important. Hallowell believes that parents and teachers shouldn’t assume that children automatically learn how to play. Knowing how to play is key to happiness in life, he said.
To learn how to play, children need unscheduled time by themselves and with their peers to learn how to invent scenarios and solve problems themselves. Un-regimented time is used by children to discover their talents using their own resources.
The next three steps of Hallowell’s plan — Practice, Mastery: The Great Motivator, and Recognition, all play off Connectedness and Play.
Through the art of play, children often discover what they are good at. Therefore, they “practice” it over and over, achieving the sensation of mastery, encouraging them to take on new challenges. There is a danger here that the child will become fixated on one activity. Gentle nudging from parents is required to encourage children to expand their horizons.
“Although Mastery is its own reward, another crucial element reinforces Mastery while also leading into a wider feeling of Connectedness. That element is Recognition,” Hallowell said.
This is important because it gives children a feeling of being valued by others and reconnects them to the world around them.
Hallowell believes these five steps provide children with the ability to get along with others, while gaining a sense of responsibility, increased self-esteem, leadership skills and “attitudes that predict leading a great life.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Morris Educational Foundation and the Morristown Rotary Fund for Parent Education.