How You and Your Child Can Make 2021 a Happier New Year

10 ways to respond creatively to helplessness, hopelessness, and frustration.

Posted Dec 28, 2020

Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash
Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

2021 promises to be better than the year just ending. With vaccines coming online now, there is good reason to see light at the end of the terrible tunnel that was 2020. Whether you’ve been dealing with the loss of a family member, with income or food insecurity, or simply the frustrations, restrictions, and anxieties emanating from coping with a pandemic, this has not been a normal year.

Many children are suffering from anxiety, and from a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and frustration, especially because it looks like there are months to go before they have full freedom to enjoy school, friends, family gatherings, sports, musical activities, and vacations.

One effective coping strategy for challenging times is to make the world a better place even in some small way. There’s a strange alchemy in this: by focusing on helping others, you and your child will feel better about yourselves, more confident and optimistic. There’s also a long-term benefit: The healthier your community, your country, and our planet, the greater the chances that your child will thrive, going forward.

Recommendations for Making 2021 a Happier New Year

1. Take good care of yourself. The calmer, stronger, happier, and healthier you are, the better able you are to support your child’s—and your community’s—best development.

2. Support collaborative problem-finding and problem-solving activities. When children work together with others to find and solve problems that matter to them, they acquire essential tools for success in the rapidly-changing world they will inherit.

3. Attend to the environment. Get your child engaged at home and in your community to help planet Earth and improve the chances they will inherit a world worth living in. Take a pair of gardening gloves and a bag when you go to the beach or take a walk in the neighborhood, so you can pick up litter when you see it. Where possible, re-use or repurpose items instead of discarding them or buying new ones. Recycle what you can’t use. Support green-thinking politicians.

4. Think about your local parks. Children and adults do better when they have access to green places for outdoor play and informal gatherings. Is there vacant or underused space in your neighborhood that could be transformed into a pocket park? Are there places where children would benefit from easier access to playgrounds or from playground improvements? When the urban environment improves, people’s stress levels go down, crime is reduced, and communities are more likely to thrive.

5. Participate in or initiate a community garden. Community gardens can become casual meeting places for people from diverse backgrounds, across age, race, income, education, and political persuasion. They can also provide great learning opportunities for children and become a source of nutritious food.

6. Go to the library. A welcoming public library, staffed by knowledgeable librarians, enriches a community. Help your child use the library as a place for formal and informal gatherings, story hours, information dissemination, book-sharing, and internet access. It can be a place of connection, sanctuary, support, inspiration, encouragement, and expansion as your child gets older.

7. Take action for positive change. Does your child’s school need a better playground? Does your town need more effective recycling programs? Are there safety issues with road crossings, sidewalks, or streetlights? Is there a vacant lot that could be cleaned up? Are there seniors or others who might need help with grocery deliveries or home maintenance?

8. Support anti-racism and anti-bullying programs at school. These programs can make a difference for every student, both those who might otherwise be bystanders, enablers, or perpetrators and also those who might otherwise be victims.

9. Look for ways to increase diversity. If your child’s experience is broad and inclusive, they will be better equipped to benefit from a wide range of experiences in their life and work, and to contribute to making the world a better place.

10. Get help when you need it. When things get wobbly—and every family I’ve ever known has had at least one wobbly period—ask for help. There are many kinds of helpers out there, from friends and family members to professionals in every field. When you feel strong, healthy, and competent, you can make your best contribution toward making this a better world.

Even if you’re still experiencing pandemic restrictions, it’s not too soon to get your child engaged in thinking about making the world a better place, using a growth mindset to convert a problem into an opportunity for problem-solving. By raising your child to think about ways they can contribute to the well-being of others and their environment, you will help them make a happier year for themself in 2021 and all the years following.


The Origins of You: How Childhood Shapes Later Life, by Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Richie Poulton