If you read no further, here’s the cliff’s notes in 5 ways to raise happy children in 2020:
Maintain your awe.
Stop, contemplate, think, reflect.
Understand fairness and justice.
Manage expectations a little bit
(Read on for a bonus! Insert smirking emoji, here.)
While chatting at school with another dad back before the entire world changed overnight, I asked about a family trip he’d recently taken. He mentioned his daughter was ho-hum about it…that she was ultimately disappointed with it not meeting her expectations.
Isn’t that sad? Trust: I mean no judgment of the dad or their trip. But isn’t it sad that a child under 10 would be disappointed that a family trip hadn’t met her expectations?
But my kids do still have a fairly good sense of excitement over being in the moment and enjoying the punctuation of life’s mini-adventures.
At the same time, my older one is already a bit jaded and would choose to stare at YouTube over doing, well…anything else.
The other dad with whom I was speaking, back at school pre-COVID-19, mentioned that losing a sense of excitement or constant disappointment is actually something that can lead to depression, down the line.
More than growing up to be smart or rich, don’t we all just want our kids to be happy? (And kind. And generous. And humble. And all that other stuff.)
Let’s chat about some of the 5 ways to raise happy children (even in COVID quarantine).
1. Maintain Your Sense of Awe
A wise man once told me, “never lose your awe” as I was headed out on a college semester program. It was a call-to-arms to choose to keep our awe. So much of life is a choice. Choose joy; choose attitude; choose to keep your awe.
2. Choose to Stop and Appreciate
We might have to force kids (and ourselves) to stop, look and contemplate, everything in life. But this is another choice. We all must choose to smell roses, stare at clouds, watch construction crews in city streets, be amazed by cappuccino-makers; you know – stare at the magic happening around us. Even forced mindfulness is mindfulness.
3. Acknowledge Injustice (but don’t accept it)
When my older kid whined that she didn’t get candy after her brother came home laden with candy after a birthday party, I responded, “Not everything in life is fair.” Admittedly, she whined about this at a frenetic, inopportune moment in the day. My response, rather than trying to negotiate generosity, was to say, “Not everything in life is fair. The sooner you understand injustice, the less disappointed you’ll be.” It was callous, I admit. But she listened to me and sort of shrugged. Seriously – life isn’t always fair. Maintain those expectations now, parents.
4. Deal with Disappointment
Speaking of – maintaining expectations and addressing expectations is critical. It’s okay to be disappointed, sometimes. But we really can choose to let the disappointment devour us, or not. We can choose to brush it off and move on with our day. We can choose to make lemonade of lemons. And while we shouldn’t go around expecting to be disappointed, we really can let it roll off our backs when something doesn’t meet our expectations.
5. Cultivate gratitude.
Just like the mini-movement to write down things for which you’re grateful at the end of the day, gratitude is an active choice. The more we consider our blessings, the more we’re likely appreciate what we’re given. This is an easy way to focus on the positive rather than the contrary. I’m preoccupied with cultivating gratitude in my children and force it upon them as activists and especially at holidays. Not sure how much it’s working, but I’m trying!
And a bonus!
People will disappoint you and life is full of unfairness and injustice. Accept that sooner than later, vow to live of life devoted to fairness and justice, and you’ll be less disappointed. Am I essentially saying “walk around with a glass half empty, and you’ll be happier?”
But sometimes lowered expectations is one of the 5 ways to raise happy children…even in COVID quarantine.
I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.
Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:
“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”
And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”
We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.
After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”
This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.
As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a
united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure
with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And
Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.
Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good
tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’
sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off
from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people
once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.
That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.
I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.
No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping
the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?)
insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups
lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he
would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.
The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.
Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.
Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)
Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”
Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.
It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.
Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)
I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.
For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”
“And what do we do besides get presents?”
So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.
Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.