Immediate Happiness Should Not Be a Parent’s End Goal

The reason you should sometimes allow your child to be unhappy in the moment to help him/her be happy long-term down the road.

Upset toddler

While we all want our children to be happy, sometimes the best way to bring the child lasting happiness is to not give in to make your child happy right now.

Let’s elaborate.

“…childrearing gets reduced to avoidance of all negative emotions and pursuit of positive ones. Right and wrong training is measured by how parents think their child feels, rather than by the end product–what is best for the child…That approach is not healthy for children, families, or society in general.”

Bucknam, Baby Wise Book Two page 9.

Do you want your child to be happy?

I do.

Of course we all do!

We want to be happy and we want our children to be happy.

Sometimes Kids Should Not Be Happy

Are there times your child might need to be unhappy?

Definitely yes.

I know that as parents, we have this urge to protect them from all pain, disappointment, fear, sadness, etc. But is doing so really best for the child long-term?

Bucknam says no, and I agree. Let’s look at some examples.

We were outside yesterday enjoying the weather. McKenna wanted to put rocks in her mouth. If the rock was large enough that it couldn’t actually fit in her mouth, it really wouldn’t bother me. A little dirt won’t hurt her.

But they were small rocks–perfect for choking on. She wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t allow her to put the rocks in her mouth. You know what else? After she had put a rock in, I told her to spit it out and she did.

Do you think she spit out the rock, despite it making her unhappy, because she is a naturally compliant person who does whatever I tell her to?

If you have read this blog you certainly know that is not the case. She is my strong-willed kiddo.

I have had to work with her on this. She has cried over me not allowing things in her mouth many times.

If my end-goal here as a parent was happiness, then we wouldn’t be at a point where she would take it back out after I told her to.

McKenna also really wanted to crawl on the cement. Well, that isn’t great on skin, plus she has eczema,, so it produces double problems. I didn’t allow her to crawl on the cement.

Was she happy? No.

Some moms may have put her back down when she let out a little cry and tried her best to leap from her arms to crawl on the cement.

But my goal isn’t to make her happy in every moment. My goal is really for her to have long-term happiness, and sometimes that means short-term sadness.

My goal in that instance is to keep her skin protected. I allowed her to crawl on the grass, just not the cement.

Those are a couple of easy examples to follow me on. These are issues of safety, and most parents are fine with hearing a little crying in order to keep the child safe.

These situations are a lot easier to deal with if you have worked with your child to develop self-control.

“Children who have internal self-control and master of the “please and thank yous” of life also have the self-control that will help them secure a healthy academic and relational life.” (page 10)

So let’s take this example. Your child does not want to sit in her high chair for meals.

At all.

She would much rather sit on your lap. This isn’t particularly what you want to happen. It is much easier for you to eat with her in her high chair.

But you figure there is no harm in her sitting on your lap and you don’t want to listen to her cry.

McKenna made an attempt at this. She wanted to sit in Daddy’s lap instead of her high chair. She ate fine at breakfast and lunch, but at dinner when Daddy was around, she fussed and stared Daddy down in only the way a little girl can look at her Daddy to produce results.

My husband did this for a couple of evenings before we decided he needed to stop it (by “we” I mean “I”–and my husband agreed because he couldn’t really eat this way, but he is a big softie 🙂 ).

McKenna needed to sit in her chair to eat. You know what? She did great. She gave a little fussing at first, but then she ate right on when she saw we wouldn’t change our minds.

She still gets plenty of time sitting in Daddy’s lap and Daddy still shares his food with her. And now? Now the whole family eats dinner happily and peacefully.

“The self-control that keeps a child sitting in a highchair without fighting with mom is the same self-control that will later keep him at a desk with a book in his hand.” (page 10)

Read: Self-Control: A Foundational Virtue

Teaching Self-Control Now Will Lead to Happiness in the Future

Yes, these little things will pay off in a big way later on in life. Eating dinner with your baby on your lap can be awkward, but the act in and of itself isn’t harmful. However, the act of not teaching your child to sit where she is told can be harmful.

Think of your own life. Are you always happy? I doubt it. Do you really want to buy a new car, but can’t afford it? If your driving motivation is to “be happy” and you lack self-control, you might buy it anyway.

But then what? What about over time as you pay that car payment–the payment you can’t afford? Are you still going to be happy? Or will you be stressed and worried about finances?

Now what if you instead decided to save some money for a year or two until you could afford it? Or maybe you buy a used car instead with a more manageable price tag. 

Now you can enjoy the car because you don’t have this huge debt hanging over your head. Did that take self-control? Yes. Did that take telling your inner spoiled self to be patient or to accept something less flashy? Yes.

Self-control produces real happiness that lasts long-term. Teaching your baby to not spit during a meal, to sit in her high chair, to not put rocks in her mouth, to play independently, to sit on the blanket and stay there when told, etc. all lead to her developing self-control.

Is she sometimes unhappy about it? You bet.

But these skills will come in handy, and on that day, both mom and baby will be truly happy.

Real happiness is not achieved by entertaining every whim and desire. It comes through careful thought and self-control. Keep this in mind as you work with your little one to obey you and control herself.

Why you don't always want your child to be happy pinnable image


Being a parent means sometimes you do things that make your child upset. The day will come you look back at it and thank yourself for doing what was best for her long-term. She might even thank you someday when she is 20-something 🙂


6 thoughts on “Immediate Happiness Should Not Be a Parent’s End Goal”

  1. Amen! It's so funny you posted this today. I have twin 19-month olds and just this morning I was thinking how tiring it can be constantly correcting them. It's a full-time job! Oh wait, that IS my job. Somebody told me once that you either put in the work now, or you put it in later, but that it will be twice as hard down the road. I think of that often. My kids sure aren't perfect, but like McKenna, if I ask them to give me something that they know they aren't supposed to have, they do it. They don't fuss, they just do it. They know, because I've been consistent and I don't let up. There's a security for them in that consistency, and like you said, it will pay off in the long run. I figure my job is to raise people that are productive and that other people enjoy being around. So everything I do is to that end, as tiring as it may be.

  2. this is a great post! My mom has always told me that parenting is the most rewarding job, but you don't really see the big payoffs until your kids are well grown.

  3. You are welcome everyone! Tracy, I agree. You either work now or later, and even just in five years I have seen that working with them younger is easier than older.

  4. Hi Valerie! I wonder if you wouldnt mind giving me some advice. My LO (8mo) used to do Independent playtime wonderfully up until he learnt to crawl and stand. I haven't been able to source a playpen (and they are over $200 for a good one here) so i have made a makeshift play area for him – however, he has worked out how to stand up and push the furniture so he can get out and come find mummy! So now i'm at a loss as to what to do for IP time. He does play quite happily and independently as long as he is free to roam – however that means i must be in the room to supervise – so its not really IP time. I dont know how to combat this – any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

  5. AA, tricky one. First, know that Brayden did the same thing at that age (fighting independent playtime) so it is something you can work through for sure!I would do one of two things.One is can you get something like this: you can't get something like that where you are, I think I would try out independent play in a room with a door. Then put a baby gate on the door or shut the door. Spend some time with him in there for a few days first to observe what he can/will get into and what you need to make safe.


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