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The experiences you have in childhood play an important role in shaping who you are as an adult.

Core beliefs, values and expectations are all formed in the first five years of life, so the more positive experiences you can provide your child, the better their emotional
and psychological health will be in the long term. Here’s what the evidence says makes a difference in the first few years of your child’s life.

The type of emotional support a child receives in the first four years of life can impact their education, social life and romantic relationships up to 30 years later. Research shows that babies and toddlers raised in supportive and caring home environments are more likely to do better at school and attain higher degrees as an adult. They are also more likely to get along with others and feel satisfied in their romantic relationships.
Social skills are also an important predictor of future success, with one study showing that children who cooperate with other children without prompting, are helpful to others, understand their feelings and resolve problems on their own are more likely to earn a university degree and have a full-time job at age 25 than those with limited social skills.

The expectations you have in the early years of your child’s life can predict how successful they become in the future. For example, one study showed that children whose parents expected them to go to university were more likely to do well in exams. Where children think success comes from can also predict their future success.

If a child believes they are naturally smart, they may not put much effort into their studies or perform well in school. If they believe they aren’t likeable, they may not make friends easily. On the other hand, if they are praised for working hard and putting in lots of effort, they are more likely to thrive on challenge and see failure as a springboard for learning. This shows the language we use and the expectations we have for children often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to research by Harvard Business School, children with working mothers enjoy a number of long-term benefits. The study found that daughters of working mothers are more likely to go to school longer, have a supervisory job and earn more money compared to children who are raised by stay-at-home mothers.

Sons of working mothers are also more likely to help with household chores and care for family members. This is a good example of positive role modelling, where the behaviours and beliefs of your parents are passed down to you and onto your children.

There is lots of research to suggest that too much television can have a negative effect on children’s behaviour, achievement and health. Children who are exposed to excessive amounts of television as a child appear to have more problems with learning and academic performance, as well as poorer health outcomes later in life. It has been linked to language delays, sleep problems, childhood obesity, behaviour problems and long-term effects on social development.

Many people say that television and videos are important tools for learning, but research to date does not support these claims. Instead, active play and hands-on parenting that nourish your child’s development are the best way to give your child the stimulation they need to learn and grow.

The relationship you have with your parents has a significant impact on your own parenting style. For example, you may try to recreate the positive experiences you had as a child, such as baking or splashing in puddles. Or you may do the opposite to what your own parents did, such as showing lots of affection to your child because your own parent did not.

In many cases, your beliefs and behaviours are passed onto your child without you realising. These may include your approach to discipline, sibling rivalry, gender roles in the family and more. The quality of the relationship between a father and child has also shown to impact a child’s interpersonal relationships later in life.


You may not think happiness in a child is as important as physical health, wealth or academic success, but research shows that a child’s emotional health is far more important to their long-term happiness than any of these factors. A happy childhood is also associated with a better social life, self-esteem and healthy behaviours later in life.

On the other hand, an unhappy childhood can lead to greater difficulties with relationships, self-insight and distress. The good news is that even when unpleasant things happen, children tend to retain happy memories for longer and in more detail than unhappy ones. If your child has more pleasant memories than unpleasant ones, the overall impression of their childhood will be a happy one.

While many parents try to foster happiness in their children by giving them positive experiences, it’s more important to help them learn the skills they need to create and sustain joy on their own, like self-esteem and confidence. If your child feels important and capable of achieving things in their life, they will feel happier and more hopeful about the future.

In general, the things that make a child happy are the same as those that will help them become happy adults. These include:

  • the right conditions to learn and develop
  • a positive view of themselves and a respect for their identity
  • enough of the items and experiences that matter to them
  • positive relationships with their family and friends
  • a safe and suitable home environment and local area
  • the opportunity to take part in positive activities that help them thrive.

Tips for creating a happy childhood

There are a number of things you can do to teach your child to be happy. Creating a supportive environment where your child feels loved will lay the groundwork for a happy childhood and give your child the skills they need to find satisfaction and joy throughout their life.

  • Raising happy children is a simple as loving them. The warmth shown by mothers towards their children has shown to be particularly beneficial in increasing the happiness of children.
  • Make sure your child maintains a healthy diet, as there is evidence that this can lead to higher self-esteem, fewer emotional problems and stronger relationships with other children.
  • Encourage play that isn’t too structured or pre-planned, to help you child invent scenarios and solve problems by themselves in an environment they enjoy.
  • Praise your child for their effort, not their natural ability. This will make them feel good and teach them to work hard to get results, rather than rely on their talents.
  • Find an activity your child enjoys and make sure they stick with it, so they can build a ‘can-do’ attitude and feel a sense of accomplishment and mastery.
  • Create traditions like eating dinner as a family, visiting grandparents, singing a special song, reading bedtime stories and other routines that will make your child feel safe and happy.
  • Spend quality time with your child doing something new, like gardening, cooking or singing. This will promote curiosity and help them discover what activities they enjoy.
  • Avoid using hurtful words that will stay with your child in the years to come. Don’t ignore them, use negative labels, blame them unfairly or act annoyed when they want to talk.
  • Laughter and happiness is contagious, so focus on being happy yourself and try to make sure there is lots of laughter and fun in the home.
  • Help your child get along with others and develop strong social skills, so they enjoy happier relationships in the future and have empathy for others.
  • Try to be optimistic and teach children to have a positive attitude, so they know how to bounce back from a crisis and have a healthy level of perspective.


Children of all ages can experience stress, but it’s important to remember that not all stress is harmful. Some kinds of stress are a natural part of your child’s development, like learning to walk, making new friends and going to school.

However, other sources of stress can make children feel overwhelmed, anxious and upset. These may include divorce or family tension, the death of a pet or loved one, disagreements with friends or peer pressure, feeling over-scheduled with activities and more.

The importance of resilience

Everyone experiences stress, but it’s how we manage it that determines how much it affects our day-to-day life. The ability to ‘bounce back’ from difficult experiences and adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy and sources of stress like family or health problems is called resilience. Being resilient doesn’t mean that you don’t experience stress, it simply means you have learned how to cope with that stress using healthy behaviours, thoughts and actions. These can be learned over time, and taught to children in the early years of their life, so they can better handle stressful experiences in the future.

Research shows that the first four years of life are critical for helping children develop resilience. In fact, the earlier they learn these skills, the better. Being able to recognise and regulate their own emotions will help them empathise with others and develop healthy relationships later in life. It can also give them a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem, with the ability to recognise that not everything is their fault. As a parent or carer, helping your child develop resilience is one of the most important things you can do to give your child a happy, healthy and successful future.

How to help your child manage stress

To build resilience, your child needs to develop good social and emotional skills. They will draw on these skills during times of stress, to calm themselves down and seek support. Whether your child is going through a tough time now, or you want to prepare them for challenges they may experience in the future, these tips will help your child building resilience and manage stress.

  • Listen to your child and encourage them to express their feelings when they’re going through something stressful. This will help them feel valued and respected. Start by asking them to tell you what’s wrong and listen patiently to the full story, without expressing judgement or blame.
  • Teach your child some quick calming strategies they can use when they feel stressed, such as taking a deep breath, imagining their favourite place or focusing on something simple like counting numbers.
  • Help your child recognise different emotions by name, by saying things like ‘that must have made you feel very angry’. Learning how to put feelings into words will help your child communicate and manage their emotions, instead of acting out through bad behaviour.
  • Help your child think of what they can do next. It’s important to let your child come up with most of the ideas, to build their confidence. Ask them how each idea will work, and show you are there to support them as they take the next step.
  • Don’t give the problem more attention than it deserves. It’s important to listen, support your child and help them feel better by moving onto something more positive and relaxing. Good distractions are particularly helpful when the stress is beyond their control, like illness.
  • Be a positive role model for your child, by showing them how to manage stress using healthy behaviours. It’s important to acknowledge it aloud, for example:
    ‘I feel really stressed right now, I’m going to do some gardening to relax’.
  • Building empathy is an important way to increase happiness and manage stress. Teach your child to help others and perform acts of kindness, so they can focus on other people and distract themselves from their worries.
  • Spend quality time with your child without distractions, so they understand that you’ll be there for them when they need you. You may also like to simplify their schedule during stressful times, so they have more time and energy for play and other relaxing activities.
  • Try to be patient and not jump in to solve every problem your child may experience. It’s important to help them develop the skills they need to calm down, communicate their feelings, make good decisions and bounce back or try again.