The phrase “productive child” can be jarring. Not long ago, children were treated as adults and expected to have a productive output through work. In America, we’ve made child labor illegal but in a more abstract way, people are still striving to raise productive children. Think about their schoolwork, extracurriculars, and play time. Though some may be well-meaning, almost every activity is tied to a goal (to get better grades, to learn how to play the trumpet, to learn a new language in order to get into that prestigious middle school). But how is this pressure for productivity really impacting our children? We’d like to make the case that children need more open-ended play and activities that build emotional resilience and well-being rather than focusing on productivity. We’ll use Aesop’s fable of the golden age to illustrate.
There is a powerful parenting and business lesson that lies within Aesop’s fable about the goose that laid the golden egg. In this fable, a poor farmer discovers in his goose’s nest a magnificent golden egg. At first, he thinks it must be some kind of trick but he soon discovers that the egg is made of pure gold! The farmer can’t believe his good fortune. Day after day he rushes to the nest to find one golden egg after another. He becomes fabulously wealthy but soon greed and impatience overtake him. In his impatience, he decides to kill the goose and retrieve all the eggs at once only to realize it is empty. Perhaps you’re familiar with the other popular take on the story, as sung by Veruca Salt.
This fable is used to highlight how businesses, organizations, leaders, managers, teachers, and parents understand what it means to be productive. It is also why science was able to determine that the equation “If you are productive, you will be successful, and if you are successful, finally you will be happy” was broken and backwards.
In the fable, the goose is the producing asset for your employee, student, or even your child. The golden egg represents the production or output. We always want more, whether it be reports, sales, special projects, homework, results, or successes. Yet, we often fail to care for the goose. When we push harder and harder we risk the fact of completely disregarding the goose’s well-being. Simultaneously, as this person (the goose) feels increasing pressure, s/he moves health and happiness to the backburner.
On one hand, older generations like to scoff at how “easy” kids have it today. Teens and pre-teens aren’t working part time jobs as frequently as they used to. They’re spending more time inside rather than playing in the woods like older generations did. Some especially harsh people will even say that because of this, they’re not a productive child, whatever that means! On the other hand, some say our generation’s children “can’t be kids anymore.” Preschools, elementary schools, and middle schools are applying the pressure and raising the standards for acceptance. In order to have a good shot at getting into a good preschool (then kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, and eventually college), children are constantly being ushered between music lessons, daycare, homework, Zoom meetings, and the list goes on. They need to be competitive. They need to be a high-achieving, productive child.
To our detriment and significant mental, emotional, and physical costs we are essentially killing the goose. How can we expect our children to become better students when we ignore their emotional well-being? If you want your child to be a “better student,” the trick isn’t to apply the pressure and enforce it with punishments. In fact, that could have more negative impacts than good. Rather, we need to let them explore, create, and PLAY to discover their own rules, strengthen their confidence and curiosity, and find what makes them happy and motivated — the success comes later, which is its own benefit. Ultimately the child will be successful in the common way of defining success, but will also be self-motivated, self-aware, and able to build and sustain healthy relationships.
HAPPE was inspired by Shawn Achor’s phenomenal TED Talk “The Happiness Advantage.” In this, he pokes holes in the ideology that runs most of our lives: “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier.” Shawn said that this broken way of thinking continually puts happiness outside of a goal or a success rather than in the present moment. If you can raise someone’s experience of positivity in the present, their brain experiences a happiness advantage, thus increasing energy, productivity, and creativity and reducing stress and anxiety. The science proved that if your brain started out happy, you were more likely to be more productive and eventually successful.
HAPPE prioritizes, well, happiness. We’ve developed two different programs to help children live in the moment and become more mindful by increasing their emotional empowerment. We know that children have the skills to master their happiness, but oftentimes we either don’t give them the credit or the space to do so. HAPPE’s Mission I’m Possible program helps to reverse this thinking by giving children fun and challenging prompts that tune them into their own emotional well-being. It leverages the power of play and gives kids the guidelines to notice their emotions and the emotions of others while encouraging them to get out and play. Our second program, EFT Tapping, is a scientifically-proven tool to help children manage the stress and anxiety that inevitably will come with school work, family pressures, and social situations. It teaches kids how to embrace and take control over their emotions, even the negative ones, and live a happy life no matter the circumstances.
These programs eliminate “output” — they don’t require that a child gets a certain grade or follows a strict curriculum. Instead, it gives them prompts and tools that they can engage all throughout their lives in whatever situations they find themselves in. It proves that a happy child can be a productive child, but that a productive child is not necessarily a happy child.
You can sign up for these programs for FREE on our website. They serve as excellent breaks in the virtual school day and act as a force of positivity and kindness in the world, starting with the most powerful people on the planet – our children.