This post is in partnership with StressHealth.org, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness. All opinions are my own.
With a new year on the horizon, many of us are focused on improving our health. But what about our kids’ health — specifically, their mental health?
These cold, dark winter months can do a number on people of any age, especially kids who aren’t able to go outside to play with friends or who have after-school activities that are on hiatus. This is a great time of year to assess and make sure that you’re doing all you can do to nurture your child’s emotional well-being. Here are some ways to do that!
1. Make sure your kids get outside when possible. Snow storms, cold temperatures, and early sunsets can seriously cut into time spent outdoors this time of year. But sunlight is a natural mood enhancer — our bodies produce vitamin D as a result of being outside and that helps improve moods. In fact, without enough sunlight, kids and adults alike are more susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you live in a climate that doesn’t allow for much outdoor exposure this time of year, look into getting a Sunlight Lamp.
2. Schedule a meeting with their teachers. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll tell you they did nothing at school. We are about halfway through the school year, so it’s a great time to schedule an appointment with your child’s teacher — maybe even without them around so that the teacher is able to speak freely about any concerns. Ask questions about things you’re concerned about, but also see if there are any concerns you may not be aware of. Your child might be struggling with something that they’re working on in-class, or maybe he or she is having issues with a classmate. Your child’s teacher spends a large portion of their day with them and so can likely alert you to any issues you didn’t know were there.
3. Schedule downtime. If your children are being bogged down with homework, projects, and other requirements, make sure they have time to let off a little energy without pressure. For some kids, their after-school activities may fulfill that need, but for others, they might just add to the stress. Make sure your kid has some time to do something they want to do each day.
4. Make sure there isn’t something more serious going on. Toxic stress is a problem that can arise when a child deals with trauma. The effects can linger a long time after the problem has resolved. If there’s been a big change, like a move or divorce; if they’ve been abused by anyone in any way; or if they’ve faced another type of adversity, they’re at risk for toxic stress. You can help. Your love and care can make all the difference. A child who is exposed to high doses of adversity without support from a loved one can have more than double the lifetime risk of heart disease and cancer and nearly a 20-year difference in life expectancy. But if you can recognize the problem and help your child through it, you can help reduce and even eliminate that risk.
You can learn more about toxic stress and the effects of toxic stress on children at the Stress Health website. There you’ll find a variety of resources, including the signs to watch for, a list of things you can do, and even a quiz to find out if your child might be suffering from the kind of trauma linked to toxic stress. Be sure to check it out today if you think your child might be affected.