Show, Don’t Tell, Is One of the Secrets to Raising Happy Children


Do this. Be here. Listen to me.

Any good parent wants to raise happy, well-adjusted children, but the way they go about often undermines that goal.

“As a rabbi, I’ve watched a lot of parents over the years,” says Rabbi Roger Herst, author of A Simple Formula for Raising Happy Children ( “Many of them don’t seem to be achieving what they want for their children. They try hard, they mean well, yet they still miss the mark.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, he says.

“For one thing, parents who think they are being good parents by barking orders are kidding themselves,” Herst says. “Kids don’t listen, they imitate. Think of how instruction is done in the animal world. Animals show their offspring about life skills, they don’t tell them.”imitation

Herst says a few other techniques parents can use on the way to raising happy children include:

  • Give children decision-making opportunities whenever possible. Never make a decision for children that they reasonably can make for themselves. “Parents who make decisions unilaterally rob children of the opportunity to practice the art of making good choices,” Herst says.
  • Let children make mistakes. This might seem counterintuitive in terms of happiness. Most people, after all, don’t feel happy when they make a mistake. But when you allow children to make mistakes they learn that their actions have consequences, so over the long haul they become more confident in their decision-making abilities.
  • Delegate responsibility to children. Put them in charge of household chores and let them take responsibility for their actions. By assigning a responsible job to a child, the parent is saying that the child will perform in a mature way, Herst says.
  • Provide children with pleasant experiences. Too often, parents have a set of convictions about what a child should do, not what the child might want to do and enjoy. But children, like adults, enjoy repeating pleasant, gratifying and successful experiences, while avoiding unpleasant ones. So parents should take steps to make sure special experiences for a child are pleasant and rewarding.

Herst says it’s important that parents start early in taking steps to raise happy children who will grow into happy adults.

“Once a youngster has progressed through puberty into adolescence, most of the parenting work is already finished,” Herst says. “If a good foundation hasn’t been built by then, it’s probably too late.”

About Roger E. Herst

Roger E. Herst, author of A Simple Formula for Raising Happy Children (, is an ordained Reform rabbi with MBA and doctorate degrees. A father and grandfather, Herst regularly engages with parents in the form of platonic dialogue – a cooperative Q&A approach meant to stimulate critical thinking – to yield logic-based solutions for raising happy children.

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Last modified: November 30, 2016

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