Prioritizing your family's mental health this winter

We're in the thick of winter. The holiday season is behind us, and daylight hours are short. We're being hit with another wave of COVID-19, leading many people to stay home and indoors as much as possible. All of these conditions together can take a major toll on the mental health of adults and children alike.

Our children cannot always identify that they are struggling mentally. Instead, that frustration, loneliness or boredom is often exhibited through tears, tantrums or even silence. What can parents do to help?

It's extremely important to prioritize your child's mental health. We're in a mental health pandemic — especially for children and teens — and mental health issues don't discriminate. They affect individuals of every ethnicity, from healthy families, two-parent homes, single-parent homes, financially well off households and those who may struggle financially. It doesn't even matter if a child or teen is a good student, star athlete or popular. Having conversations about and supporting one another's mental health are extremely important.

A great way to facilitate those conversations while taking proactive steps to improve mood is through doing activities together as a family or with one of your children at a time. Taking this time shows your child that they matter. It's important to empower your child to work on their own mental health. Consider helping them make a list of potential coping strategies that fit them. Maybe that's listening to music, creating art, making crafts, journaling, practicing yoga, taking a walk, playing sports or FaceTiming friends. Every person is unique, so this list could and should look different for each child.

These activities don't have to cost anything. Taking a walk, sledding, building a snowman or going ice skating are all great ways to get everyone into the fresh air, which can do a lot for mental health. Simple activities indoors are a great way to lift spirits, as well. Consider carving out time for a board game, arts and crafts, baking, dancing, making forts, watching a movie or reading. Taking things up a notch with activities like obstacle courses or indoor scavenger hunts can spark everyone's creativity. The activity doesn't have to be elaborate, either. Sometimes an indoor activity can be cleaning out a closet together or painting a room. The point is to spend positive time together and promote conversation.

Don't forget about yourself, either. It's just as important that you take care of your own mental health. Children are extremely perceptive to your feelings.

As we face the bleakness that often comes with January, go easy on yourself. We're all doing the best we can. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your child's pediatrician for more guidance or to be connected with an expert.

• Kris Umfress is a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children's Hospital. Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Advocate Children's Hospital. To check out more information, visit

Dr. Kris Umfress is a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children's Hospital.
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