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How to grow happy kids

How can you help your kids find the holy grail of happiness? We’ve found an expert who has previous in the matter…

I was pretty blown away be the happy vibe when I visited Warminster School to review it (senior and prep) and after drinking the water and not feeling it, I decided to investigate further. There was only one place to go, the top. So Mr Mark Mortimer, Headmaster at what must be one of the happiest schools in the UK, what’s the secret to bringing up kids who are full of the joys of life?


Focus on values

Nature versus nurture: get the environment right and you’ll help your child thrive

You can’t underestimate the importance of values – in a school, obviously but also in the family environment. I believe 100 per cent that nurture is more important than nature. Get the environment right and a child will thrive and be on a path to fulfilling his or her full potential. Values need to be clear and authentic – and they need to be reinforced by you and, ideally, by the school. So if as a family you value conversation at mealtimes, don’t have your mobile phone at your side ready to be distracted by at the drop of a hat [oops, mea culpa!]. Keep nudging your kids if they’re not conforming to your values and reinforce them as much as you can.


Give them a unifying vision

Stronger together: kids respond to being part of a group

Before I was teacher I spent eight years in the British Army as an infantry officer and I learned the importance of having a meaningful, collective and unifying vision that binds people together and, in doing so, inspires and motivates. The army’s six stated values – selfless commitment, integrity, self-discipline, loyalty, moral courage and respect for others – are the pillars to creating its vision and reinforce the strong sense of collective purpose in which every person knows his or her role and responsibility. Such unity, or camaraderie, is also a very powerful motivator of individual responsibility. Mutual trust and loyalty help everyone rise to the challenge of giving their best.


Help them feel like they belong

Group thinking: try and help your kids feel like they belong to a community

As humans, we are wired to want to belong to the wider group and many instances of unhappiness can be traced to a breakdown in that sense of community. When we feel like we belong we are motivated to do the best for the team, group, class, school and so develop a strong sense of duty of service, as well as resilience, determination, compassion and empathy.


Celebrate failure

On message: keeping kids inspired in the Prep art and design technology classroom

This is critically important and is at the root of what we do at Warminster. We want all our pupils – and staff for that matter – to have a growth mindset where everyone is always trying new things that are outside of their comfort zone. It’s good to ask children to do things that are hard. And it’s good for them to learn that it’s ok to fail, what’s important is doing their best and then, if they do fail, learning how to bounce back and try again. The response to failure is key – and failure should be encouraged as well as celebrated. To this end, never talk to children about how well they do, talk to them about how they’re going to do their best and if they’ve failed at something what they’ll do next time.


Create a safe environment to fail

Bull’s eye: the Year 6 Comfort Zone board

You don’t want your child in an environment where siblings, family, friends, peers take the mickey; they need to be supported and feel safe to fail. The Year 6s have a ‘comfort zone’ chart on the wall of their classroom. A bit like a dartboard the outer circles are red ‘panic’ zones with concentric circles moving from ‘stretch’ zones to the bull’s eye ‘comfort’ zone. Each pupil charts their progression from panic to comfort. Often fears they thought only they had – going on a French exchange, batting in cricket – are shared, so just knowing that someone else is as scared as you takes some of the fear away. And by sharing fears and respecting each other’s panic zones, it teaches the pupils compassion and empathy, and a collective joy when a panic activity makes the journey to comfort zone.


Don’t let success be the message

Fail to succeed: don’t put too much pressure on your kids to always succeed

As parents talk to your children about the times you’ve failed and help them to see that it’s part of life. And that, in fact, the more mistakes you make the more you will learn. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” If kids are always told that they’re brilliant at something, they will think they don’t have to bother and it will create a weight of expectation that will be crushing if and, inevitably, when they fail.


Encourage ambition

Dream big: a pupil’s illustration of how he’s going to pursue his dream of being a professional sports person

Ambitious goals are great. Our motto at Warminster is “Why not you?” and we always try and encourage our pupils to think big and set their sights high. Help spur your children on by teaching them how to break down the steps they need to take in order to achieve their goals. And always focus on the effort they put in towards reaching their goals, not the result. You want to foster stickability and ‘bouncebackability’, to coin a phrase, as they pursue their dreams.


Let them be individuals

Be yourself: it’s important to let kids find their own passions

It’s important to let children follow their interests and not make them feel they have to fall in line with the group. And at the same time you want to foster tolerance in them and a respect for other people’s interests. This helps them feel they’re part of something bigger, that everyone has his or her own part to play, and in turn this enables them to build a strong sense of who they are in that community. If you feel that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, that you have a voice and you’re valued, it gets you out of bed in the morning.


tent kids

Happy campers: Mark Mortimer with his wife and three children

Mark Mortimer is Headmaster at Warminster School, Church Street, Warminster, Wilts BA12 8PJ; tel: 01985 210100;

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