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Get Ready to Take on Winter with
Children’s Mental Health Ontario

We know the pandemic and COVID-19 prevention measures have already had an impact on children and youth mental health. For many of us, it has impacted our whole family’s mental wellness. Now, once again, Ontarians are facing new lockdown measures and we are being asked to stay home and only see those people in our households.

It’s a tough start to the New Year. The experience can be isolating, lonely, and even overwhelming for families who are home-schooling and trying to work. Many of us have found ourselves without our usual supports or activities for the kids to do. 

It’s even harder when our children are facing mental health challenges. Additionally, this is the time of year when many of us start to feel the mental health impacts (such as sleep disturbances, low interest in activities, fatigue, and irritability) of having less exposure to daylight.

Recognizing that this winter may be a difficult time for a lot of families across the province, especially those whose children have mental illness, Children’s Mental Health Ontario has rounded up some expert tips to help you through the season. 

1. Focus on Gratitude

The start of a New Year may be a good time to reflect and make space for feelings of gratitude. Often when we are dealing with difficulties and challenges, we tend to focus on what’s not going right. But if there is anything the last year has shown us, it’s that families are resilient. Take a few minutes to think of the things you are grateful for and encourage children to do the same. That is not to take away from how challenging things have been over this last year, but rather, it’s an opportunity to recognize that some good things have been happening, too. If there are younger kids in your family, consider helping them journal feelings their feelings using colours. If you do it throughout the day, you and your child may notice points where they felt ok and it gives you a chance to talk about what changed in the day.

2. Collaborate with Kids on Plans

Take time to collaborate with your family on activities to stay busy. Even something as similar as a family movie night at home can be turned into something special for young children by pretending you are in a different place, like a movie theatre. If your teen is feeling unmotivated to leave the house, try to really understand what’s behind their feelings – perhaps they are concerned about the virus. Ask if there is anything new that they are interested in trying. It gives you a chance to help them address the issue and potentially shift how they feel about going out. Another idea is to have your child/ teen teach you how to do something (maybe a new technology or game), giving them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and interests.

3. Stay Connected

On top of the cold weather that tends to keep us indoors more often than out, lockdowns and school closures make it challenging to stay connected. Help your students stay connected with friends in new ways. Talk to children and teens and ask what methods of connecting with friends help them feel comfortable. Is there a virtual program they could do together? Depending on your child’s interests, it could be something like a shared online yoga or dance program. Let your teens know that you understand how difficult this time is and validate their feelings – there is no question that this is a hard and challenging time for a lot of youth and teens.

4. Embrace Winter

Understanding that physical health and mental health are connected, it’s important to stay active. With so few activities available indoors because of COVID-19 lockdowns and prevention measures, many families may be looking to embrace the outdoors in a new way this year. Having a positive mindset about winter may encourage you and your family to think of new ways to get outside more. Spending time outdoors and in nature can have a positive impact on our moods – the snow and cold doesn’t have to change that.

5. Stay Active

With the right snow, there’s lots of activities to be had such as tobogganing or ice skating. But if the hills are too busy or sledding is not the right speed for you and your family, try getting outside for a brisk walk in the day in your neighbourhood. Going out, even on cloudy days, will give you a dose of much-needed natural light. You might even like to venture further out for a winter hike in a local park. During a recent Twitter chat with the #kidscantwait community, we asked parents and mental health experts what they plan to do to stay busy over the kids’ winter break. Have a look at their responses for more ideas on staying active over winter.

6. Keep Healthy Habits and Routines

Prioritizing the healthy habits that you normally have, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthily, and exercising regularly will help. Parents and caregivers should also keep up with self-care and know that it’s ok to take time for yourself. Routines – and knowing what to expect in the day – can be especially helpful to children with mental health issues.

7. Reach Out For Help

Often, the ways children present mental illness is not the same as adults. When a child’s behaviour changes and their worries, low-mood, or irritability become so strong that it affects their day-to-day activities, it is important to reach out for help. If you are not sure what your child is experiencing is normal or if they need help, reach out to a child and youth mental health centre in your community. Help is available from child and mental health experts who can talk to your child or you, or both. They can help you determine whether what your child is doing/feeling is normal or if they need more help. Find help here

Learn from Indigenous Communities

When it comes to thriving in the outdoors, we have a lot to learn from Canadian Indigenous communities. Getting outdoors is an opportunity to reflect on our roots and connect with nature. In Northern Canada, some schools used the pandemic to create more outdoor programming to help students connect with and learn more about the way of life of their elders. For Indigenous communities, being outdoors and being connected to the land is a reminder that we are “part of something bigger and I do have meaning here.” 

Read More

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Parenting in a Pandemic

Parenting in the midst of a pandemic is challenging, especially for parents of kids struggling with mental illness.

You Don’t Have to Do This Alone.

If you are a parent/caregiver worried about your child, or a young person looking for help yourself – please reach out. Our network of child and youth mental health centres has 4,000 professionals ready to help children, youth and families with free counselling and treatment. We provide care in person, on the phone and virtually. No problem is too big or small.

Find your closest child and youth mental health centre.

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