Parents of school-aged children are especially stressed this time of year – balancing a winter break, the holidays, the cold weather and shorter days.
Advocate Children’s Hospital pediatric psychologist Dr. Gabrielle A. Roberts understands the plight of parents during this time of year and has been offering concrete steps parents can take over the holidays and winter break to keep their family’s mental health afloat.
Here are Roberts’ five tips for parents as they navigate the winter months with kids at home:
- Focus on the basics: good sleep and a healthy diet. We need our children to be strong in mind and body to be successful and to tackle the challenges that may come. Eating well and getting good rest are critical building blocks for energy and strength.
- Maintain consistent daily schedules and routines that include time for exercise and fun! This is tough and will not be perfect, but the more our children know what to expect from each day, the greater their sense of control. Predictability helps to decrease anxiety and helps our children to cope better with their environment.
- Get fresh air every day. Fresh air does wonders for our mental health. If it’s not possible for children to play outside daily (due to neighborhood safety or parent schedules), get out as often as you can — even if it’s just for a quick breath of fresh air — and try scheduling weekly or weekend outings to the park.
- Promote communication and connection with others. Connecting with peers is key to healthy child development and promotes good mental health. Finding time for social connection—even if it’s virtual—is an important piece of the puzzle in supporting our children.
- Help children identify good coping and stress management skills. Work with children to figure out what helps them to relax and to feel better. Coping skills may include things like talking, deep breathing, exercise, drawing, or reading.
Kids are often spending more time in front of screens during the winter months and parents should be aware of how many hours their children are spending in front of a screen.
“There is no magical number of hours kids should be on screens,” says Dr. John Weaver, optometrist at Aurora Health Center in West Bend, Wis.
There can be many other negative consequences of too much screen time for children, including obesity and possible behavioral issues.