As sheltering in place, or being in quarantine, has been the “norm” for well over a year now in many places around the U.S., many parents are reporting something surprising: their kids actually seem… happier right now.

Happier? While stuck at home? Kids are experiencing all sorts of feelings right now. They’re scared. They’re anxious. They’re worried. 

Happy kid with his happy mom

They have a lot of big feelings that can be overwhelming. But one of those big feelings right now is happiness, and it’s totally worth investigating why. 

Kids Are Happier At Home

Experts are sharing some great theories on CNN. Some factors that can lead to increased happiness in kids right now, even while under quarantine, include less structured days, better sleep (from sleeping in), more independent (and creative) play, and seeing their immediate family more. 

Personally, I think all of this has merit, especially the last part. While being most of us have had to stay home some haven’t taken well to it, but others have and being together is making families happier in general, again not all.

A child playing and being happy with his blue toy car

More Freedom Leads To Happier Kids

Anxiety and depression, the experts say, often goes hand in hand with feeling overwhelmed. If kids feel they have a lack of choice in what they do, that can lead to anxiety too.

Before sheltering in place went into effect, families typically jam-packed their day with things to do.

From rushing out the door to get to school and work, to scrambling to get to after-school activities, life was incredibly structured and busy. 

Not to mention schools are so hectic kids have barely any time to go to the bathroom let alone have a chance to move around and enjoy their day.

Now, even with eLearning happening, families are finding their day a whole lot less structured.

After all, a homeschool schedule (like this one) means a lot less time sitting down at a desk. This gives kids more time to engage in independent or free play.

Kids playing outside with their soccer ball
Source: Oops & Daisies

As a result, kids have more choices in what they do during a given day. Recess has, in a sense, been extended. Kids have been given a chance to slow down, and that can lead to happier, less anxious, kids. 

Some parents have seen such a difference in their children and have enjoyed being a family, they’ve decided to start homeschooling permanently. 

Free Time Leads to More Independence 

With more unstructured free time, kids are often taking more “risks” and doing things on their own.

Since we’ve been at home, my oldest, at six years old, has started to make her own lunch more. She knows what she wants to eat, and so she gets it.

When kids do things like this for themselves, psychologists say, they get a bit of a confidence boost. And confidence boosts can lead to happier kids too.

We often worry that too much free time will leave our kids getting in trouble and pestering us, and while that can be true, free time can help your child grow.

Play spelled out with blocks

Boredom and Pretend Play Makes Happier Kids

As parents we may find ourselves stressed out, or feel overwhelmed with managing our kid’s days.

But based on what these experts are saying: boredom for our kids can be a good thing. As Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn” and research professor of psychology at Boston College, told CNN:

“We tend to think children develop best when carefully guided by adults. So the belief is that even when they are out of school, children need to be guided. Kids rarely get a break from being judged or directed…. suddenly kids are being able to [be self-directed]. They have time on a nice spring day to just sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. The things that are the subject of poetry that we have been denying our children are suddenly available to them.” 

We get so focused on keeping kids busy non-stop that we take up all their free time and instead hurt their creativity. Pretend play helps them problem solve and deal with social issues on their own.

Instead of them relying on schools and you to do everything for them and entertaining them, they’re finding they have to rely on their imagination, which in turn is making happier kids.

A child covered in finger paints as he amuses himself

Slow Down and Breathe

Life right now still feels upended. It still feels scary. Our new “normal” still doesn’t feel quite normal. As parents, we’re worried about our kids and their education and mental health.

But if the findings above tell me anything it’s this: our kids will be okay. A little bit of boredom can be good.

Slowing down and having more free play can be good too. And right now, I’ll take any of the positivity I can get. 

Looking For Stuff To Do While Stuck Inside?

Speaking of learning and crafts, here are some awesome things to help you while we are all stuck inside! These activities are so much fun!

Stuck inside? Then you’ll want to check out these art project kits for preschoolers!

Did you know you can make fish out of paper lanterns? This is a great craft to make while you’re stuck inside.

We won’t be quarantined forever, so why not show your kids how to make a bucket list. Then you can do the activities together once we’re allowed out again.

LEGO understands it’s hard to be inside all the time. That’s why they made free LEGO printables and challenges for kids.

Being stuck inside all day can make us lazy. That’s why Little Gym made free gym classes for kids!

Don’t like gym classes? Then check out these other exercises for kids at home.

What more things to do while you’re stuck at home? We have over 130 ideas to help pass the time.

Try this digital escape room that you can do from your couch!

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  1. We homeschooled last year and our 6 year old has really blossomed being home. She was in pre-K when everything shut down and was struggling with so much. She was being observed at school by therapist for anxiety. This past year has given her time to process her fears and we’ve focused on what we can do when we start feeling scared and overwhelmed. With this extra time it’s like she came out of her shell. She has tried new things we’d never thought she ever be willing to try. She plays so much more and I’ve loved watching her blossom into this confident young lady.