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School’s Out. Parental Burnout Isn’t Going Away

Paula M Naranjo/Parent Editor

The majority of parents “have no idea how they are going to keep their child occupied all summer.”

Credit…Kati Szilagyi
Jessica Grose

By Jessica Grose | June 23, 2020 Updated 1:16 p.m. ET

Here in New York, there are three days left in the school year. While my family limps toward the finish line — the children are taking their Zoom classes flopped on the couch, and my husband and I are exhausted by the daily meltdowns over “realistic fiction writing” and Popsicle-stick boats that won’t float — we are even more overwhelmed by what’s to come: A summer without regular professional child care or camp to occupy our 7- and 3-year-olds, while we continue to work full time.

My husband and I moved in with my parents in May, so we would have some kind of child care support. But after a month of part-time babysitting, my parents, who are in their 70s, are starting to burn out, too. While I know that we’re lucky and privileged to still have jobs, and to have healthy parents with space for us in their home, I try not to think more than a week ahead. Otherwise, I ruminate on the distinct possibility that we will continue remote learning in the fall, and then begin to despair at how unsustainable our arrangement is for the long run.

My colleague Farhad Manjoo wrote a piece about how parents were burning out in April.

person walking holding brown leather bag

Now it’s June. And the stress and exhaustion are not going away. Finding summer child-care coverage has always been difficult and expensive, making it out of reach for many families. But this summer, that juggle feels impossible.

As states open up and more and more parents are called back to work, many are finding that their day care centers are still closed and may be at risk of never reopening. Even when child care is available, many parents are anxious about sending their children back into an environment where they are potentially at risk of contracting coronavirus. Millions of parents are losing their jobs either temporarily or permanently. Lower-income, black and Hispanic parents have been disproportionally affected by job loss, and they are anxious about meeting their children’s basic needs.

A survey called “Stress in the Time of Covid-19,” conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association from April 24 to May 4, found that 46 percent of parents with children under 18 said their stress level was high, compared with 28 percent of adults without children.

The A.P.A. did a second survey from May 21 to June 3 that found while 69 percent of parents were looking forward to the school year being over, 60 percent said they were struggling to keep their children busy, and 60 percent said they “they have no idea how they are going to keep their child occupied all summer.”

nursery room interior view

At some point, we are going to have to actually talk about childcare. Just you know – folks are still working from home with their kids and it’s still impossible.

Robin G. Nelson, an associate professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University and the mom of an 8-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, is burned out both personally and professionally.

“The days are packed and incredibly monotonous, and I am not productive,” she said. Her husband is also a professor, and she has child care help two days a week from her mother-in-law. Their schedules are fairly flexible — in general, he watches the kids in the morning while she works, then they swap after lunch. But it leaves them with a truncated work day in a house with two noisy kids, and the stressors accrue over time.

When the pandemic began, Dr. Nelson was not concerned about its impact on her own children’s mental health, but as it drags on, she worries about her 8-year-old especially. “It’s hard keeping him happy, motivated, and OK since school ended,” she said, because he no longer gets to see his friends and teachers (even virtually) on a regular basis.

Dr. Nelson, who I have known for more than a decade, studies child development and child health outcomes. “People are always raised by a network of adults and support systems,” including extended family, teachers, coaches and community members, she said. “That network of adults and caretakers is essential for every kid, everywhere.”

Now that network has become even more frayed for many families since school ended. Dr. Nelson worries that the most vulnerable parents are already suffering from this lack of social support, since many low-income children have not been able to access distance learning, so have not seen their teachers, caregivers and friends since March.

It’s worth noting that “parental burnout” is a distinct psychological phenomenon that is separate from parents feeling generally stressed and exhausted. To get a diagnosis of parental burnout, you need the following four symptoms: You feel so exhausted you can’t get out of bed in the morning, you become emotionally detached from your children, you take no pleasure or joy in parenting, and it is a marked change in behavior for you.

grayscale photo of woman right hand on glass

Dr. Moïra Mikolajczak, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain, surveyed 1,300 French-speaking parents in Belgium about burnout during the pandemic, and said that parents who tended to have more symptoms of burnout were confined with very small children or teenagers, or had children with special needs.

In the United States, black parents are facing additional stressors this summer because of racial discrimination. According to the A.P.A study, 55 percent of black Americans cited discrimination as a source of stress in June, up from 42 percent in May.

Dr. Nelson said that the stress on her as a black mom in the wake of George Floyd’s death has been twofold: She has had to witness her son’s fear for his own safety, and, as an underrepresented minority in her field, she’s also been tasked with doing extra work on behalf of diversity and inclusion efforts professionally.

“It’s always too much, but it feels extra heavy with Covid, because we know black and brown people are dying of Covid,” she said. “If you’re going through a moment where your group is being targeted explicitly in public, and you have any access at all to move the needle, it doesn’t feel responsible to opt out.”

While Dr. Nelson is mindful of her own mental health, “I don’t feel like I’m in the best place to make the change I want to make because I’m already worn thin,” she said.

Inger Burnett-Zeigler, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, said that the stresses placed on black parents are unique and can feel overwhelming. She advised that all parents, but in particular black parents, can “take a critical eye at the multiple demands being placed on you at the moment. Consider which of those are serving you and your family, and which demands you can step away from.”

grayscale photo of 3 men and 2 women smiling

If your kids are not at camp or day care, all of the experts I spoke to said that having some kind of structure to the day is essential, but that structure doesn’t need to feel confining. Nina Essel, a licensed social worker and parent coach based in New Jersey, said that schedules work best when the whole family has similar expectations.

Essel suggested sitting down together and dividing activities into three categories: Nonnegotiables; things you want to see happen; and things you would like to see happen. Though all families have different priorities, in my house a nonnegotiable is that the kids go outside for at least an hour every day, weather permitting. Something I want to see happen is my kids doing something vaguely academic a couple of times a week. Something I’d like to see happen is that my kids make their own lunches. If you have older kids, you can include them in this decision-making, and break out the sticky notes to write down different activities and rearrange them according to family priorities.

Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said that “forcing your brain to think about some of the positives, no matter how small they are,” can help ameliorate burnout. A way to feel more effective is to keep a journal where every night you write down one thing you did well as a parent.

The A.P.A. data suggest that American parents aren’t all miserable, all the time. Eighty-two percent of parents surveyed said they were grateful for the extra time with their kids during the shutdown. Dr. Mikolajczak’s survey of Belgian parents showed that for 30 percent of fathers and 36 percent of mothers stress and exhaustion actually decreased, as parents got to spend more quality time with their children without the pressure of a packed schedule. With pride in her voice, Dr. Nelson described her son doing anthropological digs, clearly finding joy in his explorations. “He’s in the backyard constantly, finding an artifact every day — ‘I think this is bone, this is glass.’”

Dr. Lakshmin said that parents in general, but mothers, especially, should not just consider the risks of the coronavirus, but also the risks to their mental health when it comes to making decisions about finding child care. “When women think about this, we’re so conditioned to put ourselves second and to only think about the risks involved with the virus,” she said. “You really have to actively force yourself to think about, what are the risks for myself from a mental health standpoint? What are the risks to my values?” It’s never an easy calculus.

The camp that Dr. Nelson’s children usually go to is currently open, though she and her husband don’t feel comfortable sending them just yet. They’re waiting to see how the camp handles its first few weeks — whether it is being cleaned rigorously, and whether it is keeping its campers and counselors safe.

“If you send them, you understand you’re putting your family and yourself and the teachers at higher risk,” she said. “Still, I don’t know how we make it through the summer without anything.”

We would love to hear from you, have a story, tip or recipe you would like to share with our readers? Feel free to email it to throughlovewelearn@gmail.com. 

Paula M Naranjo

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Mother of EMT slain by Louisville police speaks out: Breonna Taylor ‘didn’t deserve this’

Tessa Duvall and Darcy Costello, Published 2:57 p.m. ET May 12, 2020 | Updated 10:07 a.m. ET May 15, 2020

Photos of Breonna Taylor were displayed during a vigil for her outside the Judicial Center in downtown Louisville, Ky. on Mar. 19, 2020.  Taylor was shot and killed by LMPD officers last week.  The family chose the vigil site because it is across the street from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —  Two months after 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her home by Louisville Metro Police officers serving a warrant, her family and attorneys say they still have received no answers on why the young ER tech and former MT was killed.

“The case deserves national attention because the police executed an innocent woman,” said Ben Crump, a high-profile Tallahassee, Florida-based civil rights attorney who is representing Taylor’s family in their lawsuit against police. “The fact that had the police followed their own policies and procedures, Breonna Taylor would be alive today.

“She wouldn’t be a trending hashtag.”

Her mother, Tamika Palmer, said police don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions.

“I’m not sure that they understand what they took from my family,” Palmer said Tuesday afternoon. “Not just me, but my family. This has affected so many of us, so many of her friends.”

On the same day Crump promised to ramp up the pressure, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer broke his silence on Taylor’s death through Twitter, calling for a “thorough investigation” and saying his priority “is that the truth comes out and for justice to follow the path of truth.”

“Police work can involve incredibly difficult situations. Additionally, residents have rights,” Fischer wrote. “These two concepts will and must be weighed by our justice system as the case proceeds.”

Taylor was shot at least eight times after three police officers entered her home on a no-knock search warrant in the early morning hours of March 13. Police have said the officers were there as part of a narcotics investigation, but no drugs were found at the home.

Bianca Austin, right, embraced her niece Juniyah Palmer during a vigil for her other niece, Breonna Taylor, outside the Judicial Center in downtown Louisville, Ky. on Mar. 19, 2020.  Taylor was shot and killed by LMPD officers last week. The family chose the vigil site because it is across the street from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, was with her in bed when police entered the home, and police say he shot an officer. Officers fired more than 20 rounds into the home.

Walker now faces criminal charges of first-degree assault and attempted murder of a police officer, but no drug charges. Walker’s attorney wrote in a motion that the shot was fired in self-defense and that his client has no felony convictions.

Taylor had no criminal record.

Her mother remembers her daughter as a young woman who adored her family above all else.

“She was born into my family, but she made her own with her own friends,” Palmer said.

She said Taylor had made plans to succeed. Taylor worked as an EMT for area hospitals but had even bigger dreams.

“She had plans, and she was following those plans accordingly,” Palmer said. “She had a whole plan on becoming a nurse and buying a house and then starting a family. Breonna had her head on straight, and she was a very decent person.

Tamika Palmer was overwhelmed by the sight of supporters who showed up for a vigil for her daughter, Breonna Taylor, outside the Judicial Center in downtown Louisville, Ky. on Mar. 19, 2020.  Taylor was shot and killed by LMPD officers last week.  The family chose the vigil site because it is across the street from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t that type of person.”

Crump is not a stranger to firestorm cases. He has become a prominent figure in cases championed by the Black Lives Matter movement, including those of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown Jr.

He is also representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was shot and killed by two white men in Georgia in late February. The case has drawn national attention after a video of Arbery’s death surfaced online last week.

Gregory and Travis McMichael, father and son, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault two days later.

But unlike the high-profile deaths of black men and boys shot and killed by police — such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Ohio, Philando Castile in Minnesota or Walter Scott in South Carolina — Taylor’s death hasn’t prompted wall-to-wall news coverage or massive protests.

“There is no reason this should not get all the attention it deserves, because Breonna Taylor’s life mattered,” Crump said.

Crump said the coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on how the community and news media have responded to Taylor’s death.

With stay-at-home orders, there haven’t been the same wide scale protests in the streets like there have in other controversial killings of black Americans in recent years.

At the same time, Crump said journalists have hardly covered anything other than the coronavirus for two months.

Together, these two factors have given LMPD “a convenient excuse” to not talk about Taylor’s death, said Crump and local attorney Lonita Baker, who is also representing Taylor’s family.

“We’ve seen (LMPD) fail to respond to situations like this before,” Baker said. “It’s not the first time they don’t respond when they act recklessly. They hide between (internal) investigations and they take a long time to get those investigations done.”

A spokeswoman for LMPD declined Monday to answer Courier Journal questions about the case, citing an ongoing internal investigation.

“We held a press conference about this shooting when it occurred to detail what we were able,” spokeswoman Jessie Halladay wrote in an email. “The Public Integrity investigation remains ongoing, therefore it would not be appropriate for us to comment.”

In Fischer’s statement, the mayor said that because the case is still under investigation, “expansive comments are not appropriate until all the facts are fully known.”

Crump also called the arrest of and charges against Walker “unwarranted” and “a red herring and deflection to try to not answer the more serious questions.”

“Breonna should still be here,” Baker said. “She should be sitting right here in this room with us. Her mom should still have her. Her sister should still have her. Her aunt should still.

“She was very much a family person and she should still be a part of their family.”

What Parents Should Know as States Reopen

Experts urge caution and continued protective measures for playgrounds, play dates and family travel.

Levi Jacobs

By Annie Sneed | May 15, 2020

After a month or two in virtual confinement, most of us are going downright stir crazy. There’s only so much “Puffin Rock” and “Masha the Bear” we can take. Meanwhile, our kids are crawling up the walls. As most states have begun reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are anxious to know what activities their kids can safely do. Can children have play dates or go to the playground? Can parents hire babysitters?

White House phase two guidelines for reopening do not include specific advice on play dates or playgrounds; and many states and localities are setting their own timetables for reopening. What’s allowed in Alaska will be different than in New York City.

Yet health experts emphasize that the virus is still very much a threat. Also, scientists still don’t have clear answers about whether people can acquire immunity or how easily kids acquire and transmit the coronavirus. All of this means that for kid-related activities, parents need to weigh what’s happening with the coronavirus in their community, what their state or locality currently allows and how much risk they’re comfortable taking with their children and other household members.

Whether your child should have a play date is a personal decision, experts say. But parents need to be fully aware of the risks involved. “I would still take a lot of caution, knowing that I’m exposing my child to another child who comes with multiple exposures from their end,” said Dr. Stanley Spinner, M.D., vice president and chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care. “How much risk are you willing to take?” Parents also need to consider whether family members, relatives, or anyone else around them and their kids is older or has underlying medical conditions that might put that person at risk. A play date could potentially expose not only your child to the virus, but also those more vulnerable as well.

If you decide to have a play date, health experts recommend several protective measures. First, before anyone comes over, ask the other parents if anyone in their household has any Covid-19 symptoms — though remember that carriers can be asymptomatic. Both parents and kids should practice social distancing or wear masks if they can’t maintain six feet of distance (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend masks for children under 2). Experts acknowledge that this may not always happen with kids — your child may refuse to wear a mask or rip it off — and that is a risk parents need to consider.

When your child’s friend arrives, make sure children and parents wash their hands thoroughly — and continue to do so throughout the play date. Also wipe down toys that might be shared and keep each child’s plates and cups separate.

Disinfect regularly touched surfaces, like doorknobs and bathroom faucets, as much as possible, especially after the play date. Within reason. Parents should do “the best they can with all of these different interventions, which is all about risk reduction,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, M.D., professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at University of California, San Francisco.

Also, limit the size of play dates. While White House guidelines for reopening allow for groups of up to 10 people in the first phase and up to 50 people in the second, experts say this is not a safe number for play dates. One or two other kids is the most you want. “Every time you add another child, you’re exponentially increasing the risk of exposure,” explains Dr. Spinner.

At a playground, you’re dealing with a larger, open space. But it’s also a more chaotic environment — you may not know the other kids at the playground, what their exposure to the virus is and you can’t control their behavior or their numbers.

The equipment surfaces likely aren’t being disinfected regularly, nor the bathrooms. “The playground is like the Wild West compared to the controlled play date,” said Dr. Chin-Hong. He said that parents might consider other outdoor activities, like going on a walk in the woods, if they want to avoid the risk.

If you decide to take your child to the playground — check your area to make sure they are open — many of the same hygiene rules for play dates apply. As much as possible, your kid should keep social distance or wear a mask (although other children may not wear masks, which leaves your kid less protected). Wash hands or use hand sanitizer often — even more than on a play date — and wipe down equipment before your child uses it. If possible, go when there will be fewer people around.

White House guidelines say that nonessential travel is allowed during phase two, though check local guidance to see what’s permitted where you’re going. Many health experts are still concerned about leisure travel. “What worries me is that as we have more movement, people are getting the idea that this is all behind us now. It’s not,” explains Dr. David Kimberlin, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

If you decide to travel, you should consider the different levels of risk involved in where you’re going and how you’re getting there. Traveling by plane or train is riskier than by car. Similarly, a city is less safe than, say, a cabin in the woods. And experts emphasize that if you decide to travel, you should learn about the coronavirus status of the destination, making sure that case numbers are consistently decreasing.

Bringing a person from the outside into your house is a risk. Look for a babysitter you trust and whose lifestyle puts them at a lower risk of exposure to the virus. Avoid someone who is hanging out with friends, living with a bunch of roommates or hitting the beach every day. Instead, search for someone who is staying home for the most part, and who lives alone or with a partner who also has minimal risk of exposure. “I would look for someone who has pretty much quarantined themselves so that their risk of being exposed is incredibly low, before you bring them into your house,” said Dr. Spinner.

You also want to make sure your babysitter is symptom-free before coming into your house and have them wash their hands thoroughly when they arrive. Some experts advise that babysitters wear a mask. Dr. Chin-Hong said parents might run potential babysitters through a “coronavirus I.Q. test” before they’re hired. Ask them questions such as: How do you keep yourself safe from Covid-19? What activities are you currently doing? What is your social life like right now? Who do you live with? How will you help prevent my child’s exposure to the virus?

“You can look for red flags,” Dr. Chin-Hong said. “You want to not only assess the risk of that person, but also whether or not the babysitter will help keep your child safe.”

The short answer: probably not. Currently, coronavirus antibody tests give you very little useful information. In general, antibody tests find evidence that the immune system has encountered a particular pathogen. But it’s unclear if many of the commercially available tests are accurate or not. A handful have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, which experts say provides some mark of quality, but it still doesn’t mean those tests will give an accurate result for an individual.

Even then, scientists don’t know whether having coronavirus antibodies actually confers immunity — or if so, how long it might last. Moreover, even high-performing tests can give false results.

“Even if you have a pretty good test and you apply it to a community with a low prevalence of the virus, more positives that you get on the test are from false positives than for true positives,” Dr. Kimberlin explained. “The meaning of a positive or a negative is extremely challenging both because of the performance characteristics and because we don’t have a good sense as to how common the virus is in a community.”

If you still want your family to be tested, contact a health care provider you trust rather than a random clinic. Ask your provider about the limitations of coronavirus antibody tests, and request one that has had F.D.A. oversight. But even if someone in your family gets a positive result — meaning it appears that they’ve had a previous infection with the virus — it shouldn’t change your self-protection measures (social distancing, masks, etc.). “Parents can do it for curiosity,” said Dr. Chin-Hong. “But it is not your passport to start interacting like crazy. It wouldn’t change my behavior at all.”

Recently, doctors in the United States and Europe began seeing children with symptoms such as a fever, a rash, abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, redness of the eyes, shock or cardiovascular issues, among other symptoms. Doctors are calling the condition pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

“This is a newly recognized condition that appears to be a hyperinflammatory response involving multiple organ systems and blood vessels,” Dr. Kimberlin said. The syndrome appears similar to a rare childhood illness called Kawasaki disease, though experts say there are differences between the two conditions, such as in the way they affect the heart.

Experts say that parents shouldn’t agonize over the condition because it appears to be very rare. However, this syndrome is still very much a mystery. Doctors think it may be related to Covid-19, though no definitive link has been established. A significant number of children with the condition did not test positive for active coronavirus, but did test positive for coronavirus antibodies.

“The theory here is that if this is Covid related, the child is recovering from Covid and the immune response overreacts with inflammation,” Dr. Kimberlin said. “But that’s only a theory — it’s not a proven one yet.”

While the condition appears very uncommon, and deaths are even more rare, there have been fatalities. About 100 cases have been reported in New York, with three fatalities as of mid-May, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Dr. Chin-Hong recommended that parents get in touch with their pediatrician if their child develops a fever and a rash.

He said dramatic cases will be obvious to a parent. “Their child would be listless, not have an appetite, and in the most serious cases, they would collapse.”

But he and other experts stressed that parents don’t need to be overly worried about the inflammatory condition — just pay attention to your child and watch for symptoms. “It is important to keep in mind that it is a very rare condition,” Dr. Spinner said.

We would love to hear from you, have a story, tip or recipe you would like to share with our readers? Feel free to email it to throughlovewelearn@gmail.com.

Why some kids are happier right now, and other unexpected effects of quarantine

Elissa Strauss | CNN

Updated 4:56 AM ET, Mon April 27, 2020Mo Major exercises in the backyard with his children Marley, 4, and Max, 5, on March 26, 2020, in Mount Vernon, New York. Mo was laid off as a chef consultant and his wife furloughed as a preschool teacher as schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mo Major exercises in the backyard with his children Marley, 4, and Max, 5, on March 26, 2020, in Mount Vernon, New York. Mo was laid off as a chef consultant and his wife furloughed as a preschool teacher as schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

(CNN)- Like most parents, Seagal Hagege, a mom of three in Irvine, California, wasn’t exactly looking forward to sheltering in place.Together all day? In one house? How would the kids respond?Much better than she could have ever imagined, it turns out. Over the course of the past month, she said her kids, ages 8, 7 and 4, have become better behaved, kinder to one another and more independent.

“Beforehand, they didn’t have a chance to just be present at home. Every day after school we were running to music, running to gymnastics, and then we would get home, do homework and go to bed,” Hagege said.”Now we have a chance to get stupid and take a break together. They’ve really stepped up, and they are shining,” she said, talking about the games her kids are inventing and their new responsibilities like slicing fruits and vegetables for meals.”It’s been really eye-opening. I don’t want it to go back to the way things were.”A number of parents are encountering a similar (and unexpected) response to shelter-in-place rules as Hagege: Their children seem happier.They are less busy, have more control over their time, are sleeping better, seeing more of their parents, playing more alone or with siblings — and feeling better for it.Lilli Wuenscher, a sopranist and member of the ensemble of Leipzig's opera house, sings as her 10-year-old son Joshua and 3-year-old daughter Josephine have a pillow fight at their home, where the family stays confined due to the pandemic on April 3, 2020, on the outskirts of Leipzig, eastern Germany.

Lilli Wuenscher, a sopranist and member of the ensemble of Leipzig’s opera house, sings as her 10-year-old son Joshua and 3-year-old daughter Josephine have a pillow fight at their home, where the family stays confined due to the pandemic on April 3, 2020, on the outskirts of Leipzig, eastern Germany.To be sure, this is but one of many feelings children are experiencing, which also include anxiety, fear and sadness. They’re all valid responses to what is not a happy moment for the planet.And there are a large number of children living with financial insecurity and grief. No sane person would expect kids to be feeling better in those circumstances.Still, the rise of happiness in the families lucky enough to be experiencing it is notable. It helps parents see some of what was going wrong before the pandemic and contemplate how they might want to restructure their lives after this is over.

Kids are getting to slow down

While it’s too early for any studies on a happiness spike, hundreds of families from around the United States have shared on social media and in discussion boards a sense of relief and joy, which tracks with what we know about the causes of childhood anxiety and depression today.Between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression rose by roughly 60 percent among those ages 14 to 17, and by 47 percent among those ages 12 to 13, according to a 2019 study. Suicides among 10- to 24-year-old rose 56 percent from 2007 to 2017.

One of the most well-supported explanations for this rise of mental health disorders is that children have too much going on and not enough choice over what they do. It’s a function of a whole society that is overworked and time-poor, and our kids are paying the price for it.”Kids have been thrown from very adult organized life into one where there is a much bigger stretch of unstructured time,” said Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids” and president of Let Grow, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that promotes independence as a critical part of growing up.Just a few months ago, many families had their daily lives scheduled down to the minute, she said. “When parents are trying to get three kids out the door on a regular school day, they have to be on top of everything. There are just so many contingencies in our super-structured lives, it’s like dancing the Virginia reel,” an intricate square dance, Skenazy said. “Everything has to be done precisely, or it is just screwed up.”

Only children don't need to be lonely children during the pandemic

Sheltering in place has lowered the stakes and expectations of everyday life, and it’s giving kids a chance to take more chances. This can include something as simple as your little ones buttering their own bread or elementary schoolchildren going on kids-only bike rides around the neighborhood. These seemingly small acts can give them a much-needed confidence boost.Letting them take chances can also restore what psychologists call their internal locus of control — the sense that they are in control of their own lives and can handle disruptions on their own. It’s a crucial element of emotional well-being.

Why were our children so anxious?

Peter Gray, research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of the book “Free to Learn,” suspected that the school closures are a big contributing factor to the happiness spike.School has become more achievement-focused, and recess and opportunities for creative play have shrunk. He said that suicide rates for children are twice as high during the school year than they are during the summer.Making matters worse, children are rarely offered much of a reprieve after the bell rings.

“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,” he said. “Kids rarely get a break from being judged and directed.”Gray said this mentality sits in direct contrast to what he believes children need to develop healthily and happily — time to play and explore.”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,” he added.

The positive responses some parents are seeing

Many parents are seeing more risk-taking and independence among their kids.Diana David Joseph, a parent of triplets, age 5, and an 8-year-old, is hearing “Mom” a lot less often these days. Whereas her 5-year-old once needed lots of help after school, now they are managing more of the day on their own.”I swear before they couldn’t do anything without me. They couldn’t even get a cup of water,” she said. Now,”there seems to be this newfound feeling that we don’t need Mom overseeing everything that we do.”

A mom of two in North Carolina, who prefers to remain anonymous to protect her child’s identity, has noticed the same in her 12-year-old who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and autism spectrum disorder.At first, her daughter was struggling, as the lack of structure left her “unmoored.” “After about two weeks, I noticed an improvement,” she said. “My older daughter was creating her own systems, practicing her clarinet every day — something I could never get her to do when it was a ‘requirement’ — and coming up with new ways to help around the house.”Her daughter has since organized her bedroom and the garage, and cooked breakfast. Overall, she seems “less emotionally overwhelmed” than she was before.The mom credits this shift to the fact that the whole family now eats three unrushed and healthy meals together every day; her kids are sleeping more without the early morning wake-ups; and her kids are both having a chance to get bored and then also having time to find a solution on their own. Lastly, the fact that they are all going through this heightened emotional time together and are “building the plane as they fly it” has given them something to bond over.Another source of the happiness boost is the increased camaraderie among siblings.Get CNN Health’s weekly newsletter

Braden Bell, a teacher in Nashville and father of five, said his youngest two children, ages 17 and 13, are getting along better than before.”Like almost any other family, our children love each other but also fight a lot. … I was worried how all this would be,” he said. “But overall our experience has been, in general, less stress, more family time and more happiness.”Bell said this goes for everyone in the family and, like others, credits this shift to a much-needed break from their busy lives. His sons, who didn’t have much in common before, are now finding ways to connect and share interests. For example, his fitness buff 17-year-old is teaching his 13-year-old about working out.”I know this isn’t a great time for everyone. I am really aware of that. But in many ways we have gone back to how humans lived for thousands of years, and are having extended periods of time with immediate family,” he said. “These are rhythms that we had as humans for a lot longer than our crazy contemporary lifestyles.”

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