01 April 2011

The Happy Heart Chair

Dear Lissy,
A beautiful post by the talented Ann Voskamp reminded me of one of our better parenting techniques:  the happy heart chair.  My friend, Jen D,. used it with her high-strung little kidlets, and shared her wisdom and experience with me when Nate was going through a tough patch as a toddler.
This whimsical chair is available from

We chose swift, direct punishment for only three things:  direct disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect.  If misbehavior didn't fall into one of those categories, we felt it was best to employ other techniques.

Most children have a time of day when they're all at loose ends and difficult to live with.  Some children are very high strung, and are a trial from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  If you've already tested them for "addiction to choice", then it's time to train them to rein in their emotions.

One of the special qualities the Creator put into us as humans is the ability to make a choice when faced with a stimulus.   The happy heart chair is for very small children from just under two to about four years old.  It is not a punishment.  When the child is cranky or upset, wrap them in a hug, and bring them to the chair.  Gently tell them they need to sit in the chair "until they find their happy heart".  Pray with them that Jesus will give them a happy heart.  We put a special teddy bear in your chair to keep you company, and always let you take your special blanket, "Bubby", to snuggle.  All three of you (remarkably!) stayed in the chair quietly until you were happy again, and then rejoined the hub-bub of family life.  On the rare occasion that you came back out cranky, we gently brought you back to the chair, and told you to stay there until you could be happy.  I'm not sure why you stayed there with absolutely no restraint, but part of it may have been that we established our authority very early on with each of you.

Our happy heart chair was a trunk covered with a quilt in the little nook at the top of the front staircase. Usually by 2-1/2 or 3, you'd go there yourself when you needed a quiet break.  It's important to put your chair somewhere your child won't be disturbed by siblings or distracted by television.

If your two to three year old is having a full-blown temper tantrum, the happy chair probably won't work.  We chose to place the child in an empty crib or pack-and-play until the storm passed and they could be civil again.  It's amazing how quickly temper tantrums die down when there's no one around to appreciate them!  I remember Nate needing to be isolated for tantrums for about nine months from 22 months to 2-1/2 years old.  At first, it was multiple times a day.  Over the months it gradually tapered out to once or twice a week, and then finally stopped.

That bring us to Mrs. Voskamp's lovely idea, the peace retreat.  We trained you to control your actions even when you felt distressed.  Her "peace retreat" teaches a child to run to their Heavenly Father, Who is peace, and Who gives peace.  She uses one special chair, a few books and a Bible that draw the child's heart to the Lord, a notebook, and a pencil.   She also lights a candle to let other family members know that someone is taking a "peace retreat".  This is a very natural progression once a child has outgrown the happy heart chair and has a personal relationship with Christ.

Families are beautifully messy and loud.  Having a way for a child (or parent) to escape  the tumult is important.  I hope these ideas and others you pick up from friends and your in-laws help smooth the inevitable rough patches in your home.

Deep peace to you,


  1. You wrote this a while ago, but I really love it! I have a 4 1/2, 2 1/2 and 7 week old daughters and while I understand the need to establish authority, and am reading everything I can get my hands on, I'm missing something. I feel too harsh most of the time. This happy chair sounds like a great way to handle those emotional moments. What I struggle the most with is determining direct disobedience from the rest. I"m actually not even sure what I struggle with the most. I guess I'm feeling a bit lost right now.

    Anyway, I found you through Raising Homemakers and have been blessed by everything I've read so far. Thank you for sharing your love for your daughter with the world, its helping more then just her!

  2. My children were spaced almost the same amount apart, but my first two were boys. My godly momma used to listen to me cry my heart out, and then gently tell me that this is as hard as it gets. Where you are right now -- parenting three pre-schoolers --is probably going to be the most difficult and stressful time of your life as a parent.
    Isaiah 40:11 was very precious to me during those years. Your Messiah knows how difficult your days are, and will "gently lead" during this season of your life.
    One book that I found particularly helpful was Childwise: Parenting Your 3-7 year old. The authors are born again believers, but this book was put out for the secular market so it doesn't contain any Scripture or overt references to faith. Although they believe in punitive discipline, this particular book focuses on positive ways to establish your authority with your children so that they feel secure and respond consistently to verbal directions.
    I'll pray for you and your family as I lay down to sleep tonight. Feel free to contact me anytime. I'll try to get an e-mail widget up and running soon.