Leona O'Neill: Making sure our children are happy is a huge concern for parents

Our children's happiness is hugely important to us mums and dads and it's a reflection of how attitudes towards both parenting and mental health have changed that we prioritise it above academic achievement, writes Leona O'Neill

Happy child, happy life, as far as most parents are concerned

IT’S A universal affliction of motherhood – running in tandem with mammy guilt – if the children are not happy, we are not happy. When our children are not happy the very Earth tilts on its axis with the sheer volume and weight of mammy worrying that is done in order to help.

If one of my kids is sad I will work day and night and move very mountains to make what is bothering them right and restore the balance of the universe. We all do – it’s in the job description, above working 24/7 with no pay, and just below having no money, ever.

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, a time we encourage children and young people to talk about their feelings, celebrate their uniqueness and focus on good mental health and wellbeing.

The year’s theme is ‘Being Ourselves’ and the aim is to help promote a positive view of ourselves to help us cope with life’s challenges and recognise the different qualities and strengths in others that can allow us to connect with one another. It’s a brilliant idea to help everyone embrace difference in others and spread a little kindness and happiness in the world.

Happiness is a big thing for children. And at times it’s hard to achieve. Things that us adults might find silly or irrelevant will weigh on little minds and take away their joy. Their worlds may be small, but it doesn’t mean their worries are. Something said in the playground or a friend not inviting them to a birthday party, or not being able to handle a homework, can all weigh heavy on their minds, making them sad and in turn making us sad.

According to a recent poll conducted by the UK’s first Children’s Happiness Coach, Simon Benn, parents’ biggest fear for their children is their future happiness. Nearly half of parents polled worry often or all the time about their kids’ future happiness, with only a tiny six per cent never thinking about it.

A close second was bullying with more than one in three parents concerned about this issue often or all the time.

In contrast, parents proved least anxious about their children’s school results and their attitude at school, with this rated bottom of the table.

Simon said the results mirrored how attitudes to parenting had changed.

“A whopping 71 per cent of parents would consider some external help with their child’s happiness,” he said. “ A result like this demonstrates just how far attitudes have changed. Helping children understand that happiness, likes all feelings, comes from our thoughts, empowers them to be happy. The earlier they can learn these skills the better.”

The Children’s Happiness coach has developed a tool kit to help kids be happier, more confident and resilient to bullying. Using a mindset metaphor called The Juicer – the 'fantastic feeling machine' – he gets seven to 11-year-old children to play games and take part in activities that boost their mental health and emotional wellbeing.

“In a nutshell children learn how to put happy apples, confident coconuts and resilient raspberries into the Juicer – their brains – to make happy, confident and resilient juicy feelings. They also learn how to put smiley strawberries into their Juicer so they can stop feeling sad. Every Juicer has a lid, which kids ‘put on’ to stop bullies throwing in rotten raspberries, so other children can’t upset them.”

Over a thousand children have already benefited from the Happiness Coach’s games and activities. You can download a free Juicer comic for your child at

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