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When you think about providing the best for your kids, what comes to mind? Food, probably–organic, healthy, whole food. Education too: You most likely thought a lot about the schools when you decided where to raise your family–or chose to homeschool. But what about happiness? Figuring out how to provide positive family values (along with that sugar-free snack) doesn’t have to be easier said than done. Here’s how:

Ever do this? Worry (c’mon, who doesn’t?)

Try this instead: Get a reality check

“Children can pick up their parents’ anxiety and worry because they’re sensitive and open–they’re like emotional sponges,” says Judith Orloff, M.D., author of Emotional Freedom. The antidote is to use reality checks to help your child–and yourself–understand that many worries are groundless.

Here’s an exercise that works for adults and kids, says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., director of the Children’s Center for OCD and Anxiety and author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper. On the left, write down what, according to the worry, is the worst that can happen. For example, your child may think that if he does badly on a test, he’ll have to stay back a grade and the kids at school will make fun of him. Then, on the right side, write down what’s most likely to happen. In the case of a failed test, your child will probably just have to get study help to do better on the next one.

 

Ever do this? Grumble about people who are annoying

Try this instead: Find something nice to say

How easy it is to call the person who cut you off in traffic a jerk, or to stand by as your kid badmouths a bully behind his back (doesn’t he deserve it?). But treating others with compassion is the first step toward loving yourself–and isn’t that a life lesson you’d rather be teaching your child?

Putting yourself in the other person’s proverbial shoes–and teaching your child to do the same–will hel you both shift from thoughtless put-downs to thoughtful compassion. For example, you can tell your child (and yourself) that maybe the driver was on his way to the doctor’s office with a sick child, and maybe the bully doesn’t have any close friends. These little backstories you create may or may not be true, but does it matter? You’ve suddenly become caring, not grumpy. The point is to remind yourself that most people are doing the best they can.

 

Ever do this? Complain about something that went wrong

Try this instead: Say thanks for something else

Complaining is so second nature that we often do it without thinking–and our kids pick up on it and start in with gripes of their own. But you’re probably trying to raise kids who are grateful for all the good in their lives. How do you make that a reality?

“When our kids complain, they need to tell us two things that they are thankful to God for,” says Brett Benson of Northfield, Minnesota, a dad of four. “We have them write them down, too, which makes them think through it and not just say the first thing that comes to mind. Replacing complaining with thanksgiving has really seemed to help their attitudes.”

 

Ever do this? Blame somebody

Try this instead: Take responsibility

People who believe their happiness is controlled by others (or outside circumstances) tend to be more stressed than people who see themselves as in control of their feelings, says Jay Winner, M.D., in his book Take the Stress Out of Your Life. Help your kid ditch the idea that everything is someone else’s fault (“he made me do it!”), and there’ll be much less anger at bad news–and much more happiness at success.

Gina Miller, a mom in Lombard, Illinois, reinforces these three ideas with her daughter: You are in control of your feelings, thoughts, and actions; you are not in control of other people’s feelings, thoughts, or actions; and everything you do and say and feel is a choice you make.

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