Education Feature: Happiness & Communication

By Lockey Coughlin

Lockey Coughlin

As a very young parent, I often said that if my children were happy – led happy lives – that I had done my job.  That was my goal as a new mom – my child’s happiness. As an educator, I see daily that this is a sentiment on which we all agree. More than anything else, we want our children to be happy. It seems like such a simple thing… when they are babies. Feed them, love them, keep them warm, clean, and safe and all is right with the world.

One day, of course, something happens to change this rather naïve perception.  Usually, it is with the help of a toddler.  In my case, it was my daughter, Campbell, who enlightened me.  One very pleasant afternoon, I arrived home, took her out of her car seat, and she started to cry.  When I brought her into the house, she descended into a full-on tantrum. 

She could not tell me what was wrong and there was nothing physically hurting her that I could identify – no bee stings, no scratches.  What was obvious was that she was angry.  For ten minutes I tried every parenting trick I knew to soothe her.  Nothing worked. 

So I decided to bring her back to where the upset began – the car seat.  I put her into the seat, she began to relax.  Then I buckled her up and she instantly calmed down. 

“I do self,” she said happily and proceeded to undo the buckles herself and climb out of the seat on her own.  Arms up, she was ready to go inside.  “I do self.” 

I love this story. It illustrates so much about the struggle of both parent and child to communicate and to understand one another.

As our children mature, we come to the realization that making a child happy is an extremely challenging and complex endeavor.  Are there experts to show you the way?  Nope.  I know because I looked and did the research.  There is no one else who can tell you how to make your child happy. There’s no class, no mantra, no magic pill. 

A step in the right direction might be to change our language. The correct verb is not ‘make’, it is ‘help’.  You are helping your child to find happiness, not making them happy.  And then, of course, happiness means something slightly different for each person.  Obviously, my initial parenting goal needed a little adjusting.

So, happiness. 

As young parents, we did have something right.  In order to achieve happiness humans do need those things – food, shelter, love, safety.  The rest of it, I am still trying to figure out.  What I do know is that a sense of belonging is required, along with ongoing, ceaseless, unending communication.  Talking it out, checking in often, debating the whys and how comes, discussing possible options moving forward, problem-solving together, listening with an open mind – and the list goes on.  This is parenting at its best, teaching at its best.  Homeschooling parents, who are both parenting and teaching their children, must be hyper vigilant about communicating with their children this way.

Communication – the imparting or exchanging of information or news.  It sounds easy enough, but, like happiness, the reality is that strong communication is nuanced, complex, and often unbelievably challenging.  Occasionally, I find myself wondering if some of my students and I even speak the same language.  The strongest communication begins with excellent listening skills and, truly, most of my best work is done with my mouth closed.  The catch is that, in order to listen, someone has to be talking. 

Getting tweens and teens to talk can be a challenge in and of itself. 

Tip #1: engender trust.  Try not to react.  When they say, “I hate you!”, know that they do not mean it and try to respond calmly with something like, “Well, I love you enough for both of us.”  Tweens and teens are very good at knowing how to get you to loose your temper. Don’t. Try to be real with them – honest – but not reactionary. 

Tip #2: make yourself available after ten pm.  You might even try enticing them out of their rooms with a snack or hot cocoa.  You will be tired, so try to keep quiet and just listen. This is when our children are most willing to talk and if you listen, they will talk more than you ever thought possible.

I have a friend, a single parent whose son earned a full scholarship to Princeton. Three times a week she would go to bed and set her alarm for 10:30 p.m., wake up, make two mugs of hot cocoa and listen for 45 minutes before she went back to bed.

Communication and the opportunity to problem solve and improve requires multiple individuals working together towards a common goal.  This is so important to acknowledge. 

This common goal, of course, to bring it full circle, is the happiness and success of our children and students.

Lockey Coughlin is the founder of Education without Walls (EWoW), an accredited program which has its roots as homeschool-based education. EWoW has grown to serve over thirty families.