As sheltering in place has been the “norm” for well over a month 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. 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.
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.
More Unstructured Time 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.
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.
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.
Unstructured Time Leads to More Independence
With more unstructured 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
Boredom and Creative Play Leads to Happier Kids, Too
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.”
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.
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