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
  • Cultivate gratitude

(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?

Years ago, during one of my very first trips to McDonald’s with my kids, I’ll never forget the moment my older kid opened the Happy Meal and squealed with delight…at the napkin.

I know that wouldn’t happen, anymore.

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.

You’re welcome.