Pre-teen and teenage happiness and wellbeing
Happiness is a state of mind or a mood. Pre-teens and teenagers are usually happier when they’re satisfied with their lives and relationships, although nobody is happy all the time.
Wellbeing comes from physical, mental and emotional health. It’s also about understanding your emotions, taking part in different activities, having good relationships and social connections, finding meaning in life and feeling that you’re doing well.
Happiness and wellbeing are related, but they’re not the same thing. Pre-teens and teenagers can be happy because of some of the things that make up wellbeing, but they don’t need all these things to be happy.
Boosting pre-teens and teenage happiness: tips
You can boost your child’s happiness with praise and encouragement, clear rules and boundaries, a healthy family lifestyle and warm family relationships.
Praise, encouragement and positive attention
Praise, encouragement and positive attention let your child know that you value them, their good deeds and their contribution to your life.
- Give your child praise when they do things like helping out, doing chores or getting their homework done. For example, ‘I really appreciate it when you put your dirty clothes in the laundry bin’.
- Give your child attention. For example, go to watch your child playing sport, send your child a friendly text message, or just give them a special smile or hug.
- Encourage your child to try new things. For example, if your child is interested in playing a new sport, you could offer to take them along to the local club’s registration day.
- Value your child’s strengths, and praise your child for who they are. For example, ‘You’re really good at looking after the younger children in your Scout group’. This helps your child feel good about themselves and might stop your child comparing themselves with other people.
- Let your child know that you’re proud of them when they try, especially when things are tough. For example, ‘I was so proud of you for running all the way in your cross country race, even though I could see you were tired’.
Rules and boundaries
Clear and fair rules help pre-teens and teenagers feel safe when a lot of things in their lives are changing. If you involve your child in making the rules, they’ll be more likely to stick to them. Negotiating rules with your child is also a way of showing that you respect your child’s growing maturity.
- Encourage good sleep habits: pre-teens need 9-11 hours of sleep, and teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. It’s best for your child to avoid digital technology use in the hour before bedtime.
- Help your child aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Encourage your child to make healthy food choices to fuel their growth and development.
- Help your child keep a healthy balance between study, work and play. This might mean looking at how many nights your child is out doing things, how much down time your child has, how much your child can contribute to family life through chores, how many family meals you have together and so on.
- Share and make memories together. For example, take photos or videos on special family days or at school events and look over them with your child, or talk about and remember things you’ve enjoyed as a family.
- Make time to talk about individual and family successes. For example, you could try going around the table at family meals and encourage everyone to share something that went well for them during the day.
- Establish and maintain family rituals. For example, cook pancakes on Saturday mornings, watch special movies together, go for milkshakes after school on Fridays and so on.
For older teenagers, happiness depends a lot on having freedom to make choices without too many restrictions – although they still need you to monitor what they’re doing. It’s about being respected, developing independently of parents or carers, making their own friendships and social life, and being taken seriously as individuals.
Boosting pre-teen and teenage wellbeing: tips
Here are ideas for fostering different aspects of pre-teen and teenage wellbeing.
When your child takes care of themselves physically, it’s good for their wellbeing. For example, being active, having a break from digital technology, getting outside and getting enough sleep can boost your child’s mood and improve their physical fitness.
Mental and emotional health
Good mental and emotional health is important for pre-teen and teenage wellbeing. Your love and support and a strong relationship with you can have a direct and positive influence on your child’s mental health.
You can also boost your child’s mental and emotional health by helping them develop:
- resilience, which is being able to cope with difficult situations and ‘bounce back’ when things go wrong
- self-compassion, which is treating themselves kindly when things don’t go well
- confidence, which is believing that they’ll be successful and make good decisions.
A positive focus
If your child can notice and appreciate the good things in their life, your child is more likely to feel positive. This can also help your child keep difficult times in perspective, so they don’t become overwhelming.
Your child can do this by just taking a few moments each day to focus on what they’re grateful for. You could even make this a family activity by asking everyone at the dinner table to name one thing they’re grateful for. You can be grateful for all sorts of things, like being together at dinner, the sun shining, farmers getting the rain they need, good health, good friends and so on.
Trying new things and getting involved in different activities keeps your child’s options open and can build your child’s confidence and self-worth. You can encourage your child by helping them find activities they might be interested in. It’s also important to praise your child for being open to new things and willing to have a go.
Relationships and social connections
Relationships and social connections are vital for pre-teen and teenage wellbeing. Your child needs close and supportive family and friends. And good parent-child relationships tend to lead to good friendships.
Meaning in life
Meaning in life can come from doing good things for others. Your child could look for everyday ways to help family or friends – for example, giving someone their seat on the bus, helping grandparents around the house, or helping someone pick up papers they’ve dropped in the street. Or your child could get involved in community activity. This type of ‘giving’ lights up the reward centre in the brain, which makes your child feel good.
Feeling connected to something bigger can also help to give your child’s life a sense of purpose. Meaning might come from spirituality, life philosophy, or a commitment to a cause like the environment. People with meaning have less stress and get more out of what they do.
Goals and achievement
Goals can give your child a sense of purpose and achievement when the goals:
- fit with your child’s values
- make your child happy
- are meaningful and attainable
- let your child use their strengths.