How to raise healthy, happy kids: 25 lessons I’ve learnt in 25 years as a mum

Now that my eldest son has celebrated his 25th birthday, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learnt in a quarter of a century of motherhood and bringing up three kids. What are the keys to raising mentally strong, healthy kids who have the self-worth, self-belief and emotional resilience to thrive in today’s crazy world? 

Parenting is tough. And it’s tougher than ever in the times we live in. I think we need to take a breath and recognize that. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling guilty and ”less than” over the years. I’ve flailed about, despaired, lashed out, cried and screamed. I’ve been brought to my knees from sheer exhaustion.

 I am no supermum…but I am good enough. And that’s one of the things I’ve learned in this last 25 years: being a good enough parent is all that’s needed.

Raising happy, healthy kids doesn’t require “perfect” parenting

We’ve set the bar way too high for parenting. We’re human beings, we’re fallible, we make mistakes…lots of them. That’s part and parcel of life and of being a parent. Kids have been growing up with non-perfect parents since the dawn of time. Let’s take the pressure off ourselves and accept that it’s actually helpful for our kids to see us mess up – and get back up again.

What I’ve learned in 25 years of being a mum

I learned many of these lessons by doing the opposite and realizing, the hard way, that it didn’t work at all. I share them with you in the hope that you find some of them helpful in navigating parenthood.

1. Our kids are not mini clones of ourselves

I’ve gradually come to realise that we have no right to expect our kids to think like us, act like us, speak like us, vote like us, dress like us or make the same life choices that we have. They are separate people to us: expecting anything else leads to disappointment and conflict.

2. It’s not our job to erase any difficulty or unhappiness from our kids’ lives

Disappointments are an integral part of human existence. Trying to insulate our kids against feeling sad, let down, angry or disappointed is a) impossible and b) counterproductive. Life is full of challenges: trying to pretend otherwise does our kids no favours.

3. Kids need guardrails (AKA boundaries)

Guardrails make kids feel secure. They need boundaries. Although it can seem easier to avoid setting boundaries in the hope of dodging any risk of confrontation or melt-downs, that doesn’t help our kids to thrive. We need to get comfortable with the “no” word: with being firm (while still being compassionate and kind). For more on this, have a listen to my podcast conversation with Terri Creeden of Grounded Parents Group.

4. We don’t need to rush to sort out all our kids’ problems

It’s so tempting to steam in in every time our kids encounter any sort of problem and try and resolve it for them. But the more we allow kids the space to sort out their own problems, the more resilient they become and the more faith they develop in themselves.

5. Don’t hand out rewards for good exam results (and ask grandparents not to do this either)

This is one of those things that might seem like a good idea – but is a recipe for perfectionist kids who are terrified of failure and of disappointing their parents if they don’t achieve A*s at everything. Instead, recognise and praise effort, dedication and grit.

6. Aim to create a calm(ish) home

Kids can cope with a lot when they have a secure, calm, predictable environment to come home to. Stress is contagious…but so is calm. Learn to regulate your own nervous system and the benefits will ripple out to your kids.

7. Respect their point of view, even when you vehemently disagree with it

It’s tempting to pooh pooh views that differ wildly from our own – but everyone deserves to air their point of view and be heard calmly and respectfully. Debate rather than shut down the conversation: listening to others and debating respectfully is a skill kids will need.

8. Don’t panic if they get less-than-glowing reports from school

There are lots of different types of intelligence and kids develop at their rate, in their own way. Don’t get caught up with the hysteria and one-upmanship around academic success – it’s worth remembering that most employers are looking for young people with grit, initiative, emotional resilience and great social skills.

9. Good habits are more useful than knowledge

We don’t need to drill every fact and figure into our kids’ brains: that’s what school and self-learning are for. Far more important that we impart good habits and positive values. And that’s up to us, not their school teachers.

10. Choose your battles wisely

I may not like the appalling state of my son’s bedroom, but he’s perfectly content to live in it. At the end of the day, there are more important things than being able to spot his carpet beneath piles of dirty clothes. If we contest every single thing, our voice gets diluted and ignored.

11. Know your red lines and stick to them

Be clear and firm on your non-negotiables – best to be few in number, but set in stone. Here is one of mine: no phones in kids’ bedrooms at night. Phones are like crack cocaine and we can’t expect kids to choose sleep over TikTok.

12. It’s okay for our kids to get angry with us

Perfectly normal and we need to expect it rather than caving in to every single demand. We can’t necessarily expect our kids to joyfully put down their phone to sit at the table. But the goal is for kids to develop habits which give them the best chance of being mentally strong, healthy and living a fulfilled life. Keep your eye on the goal.

13. Never compare one child with another

Even when done with the best possible motivation and without any intent to criticize, a throwaway comment can fester in a child’s mind and dent their self-image.

14. Prioritize good sleep habits

That means modelling good sleep habits ourselves. Children can’t thrive when they’re deprived of the sleep they need to function properly. Help them to value sleep and be proactive about safeguarding it.

15. Kids see right through us when we’re being hypocritical

It’s easy to fall into the trap of “do as I say, don’t do as I do”. But kids aren’t stupid: they can spot hypocrisy a mile away. If we’re telling them not to spend hours scrolling on their phone, we can’t then spend hours scrolling on our phone.

16. Kids make mistakes: accept them and move on

It’s normal for kids to cock up…just like it’s normal for us to cock up. We wouldn’t like to be yelled at every time we mess up. And neither do they.

17. Family rituals are scaffolding for kids

Family traditions provide anchors in an unpredictable and chaotic world. In our (Jewish) home, our Shabbat dinner is when we reconnect as a family every Friday night. It’s sacrosanct. Family traditions don’t need to be faith-based: they just need to be valued. Having strong roots helps kids to reach high, knowing who they are and where they come from.

18. Encourage your kids to understand healthy eating and how to put a meal together

To grow into healthy adults, kids need to understand how to prepare healthy food. Knowing how to balance their blood sugar and nourish themselves will support them with their mental focus, emotional regulation, energy levels – and help to protect their health in the long-term. Listening to their body and honouring its needs is a key life skill. Have a look at my blog on four healthy breakfasts to keep you full till lunchtime.

19. Chat to people of all ages and backgrounds in front of your kids

Kids pick up social skills from regularly listening to us chat to strangers. It’s important that they learn how to connect with anyone – from any background – with openness, respect, kindness and empathy. Social skills are invaluable and our kids learn them from us.

20. Put your own wellbeing first

I used to subscribe to the prevailing ideology that mums should martyr themselves and feel guilty about any crumb of me-time. Now I understand this: the single biggest thing that affects our kids’ wellbeing is our own wellbeing. If we want our kids to be mentally strong, healthy, balanced, fulfilled human beings, that’s what we need to cultivate in ourselves. And that begins with our own self-care. (Do have a listen to my podcast conversation with Zoe Blaskey of Motherkind on this topic).

21. We don’t need to devote every waking hour to our kids

It’s not a moral failure to leave our kids to get on with it. We don’t need to be at their beck and call all day (unless, of-course, they’re tiny and totally dependent on us). We’re not professional entertainers or educators. And, frankly, we have other stuff we need to do. Besides, it’s not helpful for kids to grow up believing they’re the centre of the entire universe. Allow them to be bored, to come up with their own creative solutions – and to become self-reliant.

22. Buying them more stuff doesn’t make kids more content

Our buy-buy-buy culture encourages us to believe that we can keep our kids happy (and them liking us) by buying up every new gadget, toy, pair of trainers etc. This is a strategy that can never work. It also fosters kids who are entitled and totally ill-equipped for real life.

23. Role model what you’d like for your kids

Our kids take their cue from us. Let your kids see you looking after yourself, respecting your body and actively caring for it. Let them see you making time for hobbies that give you joy and light you up. Let them see you pursuing goals which give you fulfillment and meaning in life.

24. We don’t own our kids

We’re blessed to have our kids at home for their first 18 or so years. Our role is not to cling to them, lean on them, smother them or obtain our own validation through them. They are separate to us. We need to give them space to create their own identity, to follow their own path and pursue their own dreams. Keep the nest open, warm and ready to hug them – but let them spread their wings and fly.

25. Love them and accept them – with no strings attached

And, most importantly: our kids need us to accept them wholeheartedly for who they are. No matter what they say or do, or what they achieve or don’t achieve, no matter what exam results they get, no matter how often they push us away. They need our love constantly, dependably and unconditionally.

There you have some of my thoughts on raising mentally strong kids. It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means. Plus, I’m constantly readjusting my approach to parenting as I continue to learn “on the job”. You can hear me talking more about what I’ve learnt so far in my podcast episode: What I’ve learnt in 25 years of being a mum.

If you’re looking to improve your own lifestyle habits, boost your emotional resilience and be a role model to your kids, I invite you to join me on my Freshly Minted membership. I’ll gently support you through the process of making small, sustainable lifestyle changes that will transform your wellbeing – and ripple out to your whole family.

You can find all the details and sign up by clicking the button below.

Suzy x

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