5 Actionable Ways To Be A Happier Parent Every Day

Here are some helpful tips to make parenting easier and more enjoyable.
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Parenting is a joy, but it is also a grind. On one hand, most parents say raising their kids is essential to their identity and feels rewarding most — or all — of the time. On the other hand, parental stress levels soared during the pandemic, and they haven’t dropped back down yet. Even before COVID, parents tended to report feeling more stress day to day than nonparents.

Those ups and downs are expected when you’re doing the long, challenging work of raising another human (or more). But parenting researchers and experts also know there are simple strategies that can help parents tap into their sense of happiness and joy every day. Here are five of them:

1. Empower your kids to do things for themselves

In her 2018 book, “How to Be a Happier Parent,” journalist KJ Dell’Antonia argued that one of the simplest things parents can do to boost their own happiness day to day is to help their children learn how to do many basic daily tasks on their own.

“People who describe themselves as happier parents typically move from greater involvement when their kids are younger to encouraging independence when their kids are older,” said Dell’Antonia, who also founded The New York Times’ blog Motherlode.

So when kids are younger, she offered as an example, parents get them up for school. But as they get older, it becomes the children’s responsibility to set an alarm. If they’re late, they face the consequences.

Making sure that children have chores and ownership over certain household tasks — and that they know how to handle basic daily to-dos — fosters a deep sense of reliance and self-confidence that, according to research, extends into adulthood.

But it also just makes things easier and more pleasant for you. By gradually teaching children to be more responsible for themselves, you will eventually spend less time cleaning up after them or nagging — focusing instead on connection and maybe even a few minutes to yourself.

2. Breathe together

It is well-established that focused breathing can be a major stress reliever, helping to slow your heartbeat and stabilize your blood pressure. Research also shows that taking a few focused, deep breaths can immediately lower a child’s “physiological arousal” — basically, it can make them feel less like they’re on high alert or riled up.

One specific technique to try is the three-breath hug. As Shonda Moralis, a women’s mindful empowerment coach and psychotherapist, previously told HuffPost: Give each other a big bear hug, then take three slow breaths in and out together.

“It can be really calming in the middle of a meltdown,” said Moralis, author of “Breathe, Mama, Breathe.” It also has the added benefit of fostering physical closeness, which can help release powerful hormones such as oxytocin. So it’s like a relaxation double whammy.

3. Unfollow any parents who make you feel crappy

Technology has made parenting easier in so many ways, from being able to instantly search your child’s symptoms online to connecting with other caregiver in online support groups. Yet, parents clearly feel conflicted about it. A 2020 Pew report found that more than half of parents say they spend too much time on their smartphones, while nearly 70% say they feel distracted by their phones when spending time with their children. Social media, in particular, can make parents feel like crap. In fact, there is a link between symptoms of depression in young parents and social media use.

That is why it can feel so good to simply unfollow any parents in your various feeds who make you feel bad about your own parenting journey, whether it’s a momfluencer you can’t help but compare yourself to or a friend who shares opinions that tend to get you all worked up.

4. Prioritize a few minutes of one-on-one time with your kid every day, free from distractions

If you’re a busy parent who hits the ground running when the alarm goes off (or a child comes in whining) and doesn’t stop until you collapse at night, the last thing you probably want to hear is advice telling you to squeeze in more time with your kid.

But parenting experts often emphasize how critical a few minutes of focused parent-child playtime can be. Kids relish getting your attention, which can make a big difference in their overall demeanor and behavior. And parents can spend those few minutes just soaking up who their kids are.

Claire Nicogossian, a clinical psychologist and author of “Mama, You Are Enough,” previously told HuffPost that parents should consider this question: “How much quality time having fun and enjoying your child’s company doing an activity together have you been able to do?”

Whatever number you come up with, try tacking on a few minutes more. If you generally spend about five minutes a day playing with your kid, try 10. The goal is to have connected, unstructured time together where you’re giving them your full attention.

5. Try and squeeze in a little more sleep

Research shows that parental sleep doesn’t just suffer when there’s a new baby at home; it takes a hit in the long term. One study found that parents don’t sleep well for at least six years after a baby is born.

But of course, good sleep is so fundamental to people’s ability to function day to day and to their long-term mental health. People who sleep under six hours a night are 2 1/2 times more likely to experience mental distress than those who clock more than six hours a night.

There may be limits to how many ZZZs you’re able to get that you can’t do anything about right now, especially if you’ve got a baby or toddler at home. Do what you can. If they’re old enough, consider a sleep training program. If they’re not or you’d prefer not to go that route, ask a partner (if you have one) to handle the early morning wake-ups or night feeds a few times a week. Some experts believe that just 15 additional minutes of rest a night can make a big difference in your ability to focus and concentrate and in terms of not feeling overwhelmed by daytime drowsiness.

Short power naps can help, too. (Experts generally recommend snoozing for at least 10 but no more than 30 minutes.) Ultimately, the goal is to try and put yourself — and your sleep needs — first, or at least before things that you probably don’t really need doing, such as the dishes or revenge bedtime procrastinating.

If implementing these five strategies feels overwhelming or impossible, start with one of them and then work your way up. Even small tweaks can make a difference in your overall health and happiness as a parent.

This is part of a HuffPost Parents series called Enjoy The Ride. Read more here.


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