“It doesn’t matter to us what gender we have, as long as they are…” The rest of this seems to have escaped me. Ah, yes, healthy! It’s not a direct quote from anybody in particular, but of course we’ve all heard this time and time again from expecting parents.

To what extent do we want our kids to be healthy? Do we wish they just have all 10 fingers and 10 toes? A heart that beats an unrelenting, quick little beat? Lungs that shout and announce their long-awaited arrival?

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Redefining Healthy

It’s fair to say there’s more to being healthy than just having a body full of organs that complete their designated, intricate tasks day in and day out. It includes our personality our thoughts our temperament our spirit and essence which has no physical matter.

Whatever you want to call it, it is part of what makes you, well, you!

To what extent do we want our kids to grow and develop this part of their healthy selves? To what extent can we influence this development? For most kids if you give them similar food and water, they will continue to grow into a certain limited specification size of “adult.”

Managing Behavior

The other part of growth and development is something I get increasingly more questions about during well-child checks. “He’s bad, how do I get him to behave?” “She has just changed and doesn’t listen. How do I get her to be compliant?” Is “ornery” on the tip of your tongue? It seems to be the trendy word these days.

Walk through the toy aisle at the store for five minutes and I bet you’ll hear incessant whining, some crying, and, if the stars are aligned, a full on DEFCON 1 situation with a child completely beside themselves sprawled on the ground and screaming in tongues. Doesn’t take much to picture this does it? My heart goes out to that parent, and to my own parents I’m sorry if – scratch that – when that was me.

This article isn’t meant to give any specific answers because honestly there is such a variability in the spirit of children that one catchall statement likely will not be effective. Instead, I pose the question to you—what are you doing to nurture a happy child?

Nurturing Happiness

Take some special time and talk with your kids. What happened that they’re really proud of? What is something that is bringing them happiness and why? What is something that did not turn out so well for them, and if/when the situation arises again how could you handle it differently? Notice I didn’t say “if you could back and do it over.”

We’re human and time travel as of writing this is not possible, so don’t dwell on the chance to back in time. Life is imperfect because we are imperfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for perfection. This can be an opportunity to talk to your child about two things that are at the root of happiness — appreciation and contentment. What does it mean for your child to appreciate the people, places and things that make up their life?

When these people, places and things are no longer available or are now available to other people and not them, then how do they find contentment in what they do have? If this is too broad for your child to internalize and express, then think of something concrete that their world revolves around and from there: family, friends, school, sports, and personal belongings.

I recently heard that certain behaviors are “caught rather than taught.” Of course, then maybe this isn’t really about nurturing these qualities in our kids as much as it is in ourselves. We may be fully grown physically, but how much growth in the spirit of ourselves do we have remaining? Instead of a toy store, maybe it’s a clothing store on Black Friday. Maybe it’s not directed at our mortified parents standing over us, but rather to our spouses or friends.

Tantrums with the crocodile tears and ribbons of snot replaced by adult language and frustration is still just that—ungratefulness and discontentedness. These feelings and emotions are neither good nor bad they just are. It is physically acting upon these emotions that can be morally judged.

Challenging Ourselves

While writing this I found that if you Google the word usage frequency of “tantrum” and “appreciation” you’ll see that interestingly over time there has been an increase in the former and decline in the latter. More tantrums and less appreciation.

Coincidence? This far from anything scientific, but as Gandhi said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

So I challenge you, as well as myself, to think about what is means to be appreciative and content so we can fulfill our parents’ one wish for us: to be happy and therefore fully healthy.

For more information, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

About UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC Pinnacle is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Pinnacle includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.

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