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Monday, September 27, 2010

Formula for Parental Happiness

Recently I attended a training in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) developed by Dr. Matt Sanders and colleagues at the University of Queensland, Australia. The overarching goal of Triple P is to "reduce the prevalence of behavioral and emotional problems in children by enhancing the competence and confidence of parents at a population level". This asset-based program incorporates five principles of positive parenting: Safe and engaging environments, Responsive Learning Environments, Assertive Discipline, Reasonable Expectations, and Parental Self Care. Because I now look at life through the lens of Positive Psychology, I couldn't help but see several tie-ins to self efficacy, self-determination, the ABC model, explanatory styles, self regulation, thinking traps and icebergs. For those not well-versed in the Positive Psychology lexicon, in the coming weeks I will be taking each of the aforementioned topics and writing a separate blog to explain each concept or theory. Stay tuned...

For me, the most obvious connection between Triple P and Positive Psychology is the notion of a formula for happiness. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman outlines his theory that 50% of an individual's level of happiness is attributed to heritable or genetic programming (pessimistic or optimistic explanatory styles), 40% to life circumstances and 10% to intentional activities. This formula is promising for those of us who feel that happiness is a choice. By changing one's circumstances or engaging in intentional activities, one can alter his/her overall level of happiness. Despite variations in levels of happiness, there is a set point to which all people return, which is largely due to a tendency to adapt to life's highs and lows. But focusing on getting more pleasure out of life, becoming more engaged in what you do and finding ways of making your life feel more meaningful will alter your set range of happiness. Read More (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1015832-3,00.html#ixzz10kEhR0Fm)

The same happiness formula applies to parenting and is explicitly demonstrated in the Triple P curriculum. A parent's genetic programming, such as temperament or explanatory style, heavily influences parenting skills. For instance, a parent with a pessimistic explanatory style, may think that the temper tantrum his/her child is displaying happens "all the time", "it will never end", or "my child is bad" , thinking in terms of a behavior being permanent and universal or "not me, always and everything". An optimistic parent may view the same episode as temporary and specific "it was only this one time", "she was tired", "it will be over soon." And what role do life circumstances play into parenting? Think about a parent undergoing unemployment, depression, marital conflict, poverty or other situations. Life circumstances affect the home environment and are major factors that contribute to behavior in children. When parental circumstances are less than ideal, the environment can be constructed in a negative way for a child. Alternatively, stable life circumstances can produce environments rich in time, attention, conversation, and parental engagement.

The last piece of the parenting happiness formula involved intentional activities. By taking time to get down on the floor to play with your child, talking to them at the dinner table, snuggling with them in bed at night, and stopping chores to see a drawing they have created, you will not only be giving yourself a boost, but your child will reap the rewards tenfold. There are several other activities available to parents to contribute to that 10% part of the happiness equation. Sonya Lyubomirsky and Barbara Fredrickson are two researchers who provides readers with practical and intentional activities to use everyday with your children and you! That fifth principle of Triple P is parental self-care, which in my mind, is the cornerstone of parental well being. When you are on an airplane, the safety demonstration tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting your child. If you are not nourished as a parent, you will have little to nothing to give to your children. As you go through your day today, whether or not you are a parent, remember the formula: Happiness = Genetics + Circumstances + Intentional Activities. You always have a choice.

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