I just want my kids to be happy

What actually makes for a happy child? As part of Mental Health Week 2015, Parents in Years 7-11 were invited to join the School Psychologist, Ms Sally Kenney, and School Counsellor and Chaplain, Rev. Janet Costello, in a lively discussion about life’s ups and downs and how to help our students find the happiness in between. We had a fantastic response to the seminar and Sally has kindly written up some information we thought you might find useful.


Ask parents anywhere what they want for their children in life and this is the most common response. But what makes for a happy child? How can parents help their children find happiness amongst the ups and downs that life inevitably throws our way?

What makes Kilvington kids happy?

With the assistance of Kilvington’s Health and PE department, students from Years 7-10 were surveyed with the simple question: “What makes you happy?”

Year 7 girls Year 7 boys Year 8 girls Year 8 boys Year 9 girls Year 9 boys Year 10 girls Year 10 boys
 1  Friends Friends Friends  Friends Friends  Sport Friends Sport
 2  Music Sport Family  Family Music Friends  Family Friends
 3  Sleep Video Games Sleep Music Food Food Sport Food
 4  Sport Food Animals Sport Sport Animals Food TV/Movies
 5  Family TV Movies  Food Food No Stress  Down time Free time  Free time


It’s clear that our students feel the happiest when they are with their friends. They are also buoyed by their families, enjoy being involved in sport, listening or playing music or watching something on the TV. We can also see that as students get older, having free time becomes more important.

“Happiness is when life fulfils your needs”: Kenneth Benjamin

Australia is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. However, for many Australians, mental health is of major concern. Worrying, often the first (and sometimes only) experience of a mental health disorder will come by the age of 14, three quarters by the age of 24.

So why are the teenage years so hard?

Adolescence is a time of rapid change and development, as well as the time when many ‘firsts’ occur, both positive and negative.  Adolescents are fantastic at being in the moment, which means that keeping things in perspective can be challenging, particularly if they have not yet learned how to actively regulate their emotions. Also contributing to this is the developing adolescent brain’s tendency to make decisions driven by emotions rather than by logic and reason.

The teenage years are also characterised by a number of developmental milestones that the adolescent is working towards in preparation for adulthood. Answering questions such as “Am I normal?”, “Who am I?”, “Where do I fit?” and “Where am I headed?” is an essential and absorbing part of this stage of life.

Putting the positive into psychology

Martin Seligman, in his book Flourish, outlines the developing area of Positive Psychology. Positive psychology looks at what promotes thriving and achievement, as opposed to a more traditional deficit-based approach. Seligman refers to the The PERMA model of Positive Psychology, made up of five elements, all essential to wellbeing:


Research backs up the theory that our happiness is maximised when there is something good happening in each of these areas.

How can you help?

1. Be mindful of how we label emotions

Labelling feelings as ‘bad’ implies that they need to be got rid of, repressed or ignored. A more helpful approach is to help your child accept that sometimes we feel things we’d rather not, and instead of trying to rid ourselves of the feeling, we can learn to let it be there while we get on with the things that matter. Eventually the feeling will soften and pass.

2. Remember that thoughts influence our feelings

A situation is only as bad as you tell yourself it is. Is there a way that your child might re-frame the situation in order to feel less upset?

3. Keep your children in touch with their values

Find times at home to talk about values, where they come from and how they impact on us and our choices. Help your child define and refine: they’ll learn from you, you don’t need to impose.

4. Make sure they sleep

In his TED talk, ‘Why Do We Sleep?’, Neuroscientist, Dr Russel Foster, explains the functions of sleep and why adolescents need nine hours a night. Watch it with your children and discuss the implications together. Don’t be afraid to out yourself with your own bad habits and collaborate with your children about improving household sleep habits.

5. Listen with acceptance and curiosity

Often when young people talk about a problem that’s all they want to do: talk about it. Jumping straight into problem-solving, reacting with that familiar parental rescue reflex can get in the way of us really listening to our kids. Sometimes all they need is us to get in there with them, to weather the storm. If we can be resilient enough to sit with and tolerate our children’s difficult emotions, they will learn to do it too.

Wellbeing via a Growth Mindset
When a growth mindset is applied to the five elements of the PERMA model, the opportunities for thriving are maximised. A growth mindset encourages us to embrace the struggle and to welcome mistakes as opportunities to grow and develop. At Kilvington, staff have had the privilege of working with Lorraine Davies from Mindset Mastery, who took us through the theory of growth versus a fixed mindset. You can read more about growth mindset here and an outline of Lorraine’s seminar here.

Here are some other resources you might find useful:

Your teenager’s developing brain

Adolescent Development (Headspace)

Surviving Adolescents by Dr Michael Carr Gregg