Children are funny—at least mine are. I love them to death, but if I had to explain why they do, say or think many of the things they do, I’d be up the creek. Sometimes there is no rationale or logic. Kids are weird sometimes. And it’s very possible that, if your experience is anything like mine, they are doing just fine in quarantine during this COVID-19 pandemic situation – maybe even (dare I say) happier in quarantine. I asked my youngest (she’s 11) the other day if there was anything she liked about being in quarantine. She muttered, “Eh, I guess so. Maybe.”
Then she proceeded to play outside for three hours, baked some cookies, and watched a movie with the family. I think she’s doing alright.
So this article is for all you parents out there whose kids seem happier being in quarantine and have thought, what do I do with that? And I’d like to suggest that exploring why our kids are happier during quarantine can make us a better parent.
The Two Sides of Why Kids Are Happier
So, just why are the kids happier during quarantine? There could be two sides to that answer— a healthy side and a not-so-healthy side. We can learn from both.
Maybe you’ve seen the not-so-healthy side of happier-quarantined kids. You see the signs:
- The video game console burns more electricity than the refrigerator.
- Their bedroom door is always shut, all day, and you’re starting to wonder what your kid looks like.
- The pantry is now a free-for-all, and you’re beginning to miss those sweet school lunch ladies who you had never met before.
Granted, this doesn’t necessarily reflect every happy kid’s quarantine experience. But if it does, these are signs you might not have noticed before in the normal humdrum of life. Now that you are together more often, you notice the patterns and the red flags go up.
But there’s possibly a healthier side to why children might be happier in quarantine.
Kids are happier when families do stuff together. They love being around each other. Even teens, who typically need time away from parents as a normal part of their development, find comfort, belonging, connection and a more solidified identity when the family is more available. (But don’t expect them to tell you that!)
True, many kids miss seeing their friends (as do many adults). But consider the idea that the last few years of technology have possibly conditioned kids for quarantine. They, especially teens, are already accustomed to hanging out with friends and family electronically.
Another explanation for quarantine-induced happiness in your kids: During the quarantine, have you noticed how much you are jumping from activity to activity, grabbing dinner on the go, not enough room for good family conversation, just like in pre-quarantine times? No? That’s because you probably aren’t.
With the cancellation of baseball, dance lessons, band practice and other extracurriculars that devoured the family calendar, the pressure of jumping from activity to activity with little downtime has disappeared. Consequently, so has the pressure to do everything well. And kids really like this.
One more possible reason kids are just happier in this crazy situation: They can focus on schoolwork better, and for shorter periods of time during the day.
Schools are wonderful places, and the hardworking educators and administrators who devote their lives to kids are invaluable. But I also know that schools inherently contain distractions that, frankly, aren’t present at home. Rowdy peers, bullies, loud environments, busy hallways, busy lunchrooms, busy work—these can easily interfere with an otherwise productive day at school. At home during quarantine, kids can do what we all like to do—get in there, get their work finished and move on to more exciting things in the day.
Ask ‘Em About Happiness
So how do we go about exploring these ideas with your children and gaining some parenting perspective? One simple answer to this is, ask them.
- What have you liked about being in quarantine?
- Is there anything you have not liked? If so, what is it?
- What has made you happy being in quarantine?
- How has school been different for you in good ways? In bad ways?
- Are there things we’ve done in quarantine that we normally didn’t do before as a family? Are there things you would like to do as a family that we’ve not done before?
- Is there anything we did in pre-quarantine that we haven’t been able to do now, and you don’t miss it?
I believe knocking around these questions with your kids can make a big difference in how we parent and what we can look forward to in the future. It’s going to take intentional conversations, and depending on the number, age and personalities of your children, you may need to choose your strategy carefully.
Younger kids may need help to articulate answers to these questions without putting your words in their mouths. With preteens and teens, you might have to wait for the “the right time,” the “teachable moment,” to bring up the subject. Some kids like to know these questions ahead of time before giving answers so they have time to think about it; others love spontaneous conversation. You know your children well and can figure out (sometimes through trial and error) how best to approach these questions with them.
How It Will Be After The New Norm
The big question here is, how will what you learn from your kids about being happier in quarantine affect how you parent after the quarantine?
What will your family focus on more? Less? And how do you want to direct your parenting based on what you discover during quarantine?
These are the kinds of questions that simply take time and ongoing conversation in order to draw solid conclusions. But keep this one big idea in mind: The experience of going through quarantine will impact our kids for the future, but not nearly as much as how we parent during the quarantine.
The ways in which your family has shifted during the pandemic—spending more time together, eating more meals together, slowing down, enjoying the outdoors more, having more intentional conversations, making time for more play and fun (in other words, all the reasons my funny, weird kids say they’re happier)—these are all touchstones to be cultivated by us, the parents, for the future.
What we do now helps kids navigate transitions, deal with change and stress, develop resilience, foster positive values, make tough decisions in the face of the crowd. Because, hey—that’s life, right?
Talk to your kids about what’s making them happy right now. Lean into what they say (or what they do after they mutter I don’t know). We can learn a lot from what’s making our kids happy.
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