This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
As the first quarter of our new virtual school year was winding down, I assigned an Exit Question as a way to check in with my students.
My goal as a teacher has always been to create a positive environment where my students can learn. Even though we’re not in the classroom together, I sense their stress over Zoom and through the emails they sent about assignments and deadlines. I know it’s up to me to ask because so many times, my students won’t share unless I open the door for a conversation to happen.
The same thing is true with our kids and our fellow parent friends. This year we’ve all shifted because of COVID, and as the winter holidays draw closer, now can feel like an especially hard time.
Many of us aren’t making plans to travel to visit grandparents, relatives, or friends. We’re prioritizing the health of our loved ones over family traditions and togetherness, but this takes a toll on us, our kids, and our friends within our circles.
Since this time of year can be stressful, take time leading up to the holidays to introduce the idea of ACEs. Friends and loved ones need to know what they are and how they can impact life in adulthood. While ACEs are different from COVID-19 stress, we can use our current empathy and apply it forward.
If you’re not familiar with ACEs, they include emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse and child neglect (emotional and physical), parent or household mental illness, and parent or household substance abuse/alcoholism. They can result from witnessing domestic violence, having a parent or family member in jail, or parent separation or divorce.
ACEs are so common that 61% of adults have experienced at least 1 ACE. Chances are if you’ve experienced one, you’ve experienced multiple adverse childhood experiences. 16% of adults have had 4 or more types of ACEs.
ACEs cause toxic stress that can alter brain development and affect how the body responds to normal stress. Since adverse childhood experiences are so common, their effects can add up over time.
6 Tips for Preserving Your Family’s Mental Health This Holiday Season
This year make a plan for preserving your mental health as the holidays draw closer. We all have the potential to make a difference when it comes to ACEs and create positive holiday experiences at the same time.
Here are 6 tips on how to preserve your family’s mental health this holiday season.
Find Your “Three”
During this trying time, we adults need to ensure that our support system is in place. Safe, stable, nurturing relationships prevent ACEs. Connections and relationships are essential, so make sure you have three people or resources you can rely on.
Family, friends, and neighbors, can serve as important in-person supports. Even those who live far away can be important sources of support since social media, DMs, and texts allow us to stay connected 24/7.
Also seek out local resources such as parenting groups, members of school staff such as teachers, counselors, and administrators, and community organizations whose members have the same interests as you.
This idea of #findyour3 helps prevent the impact of ACEs. Identify what people, policies, and organizations are part of your support system and learn more about ACEs here.
Teach Your Kids How to Be Someone Else’s “Three”
Kids of all ages want to give gifts to those they love but help them realize that a gift isn’t always something physical. Use the idea of gifts and the holiday season to point out an inexpensive way to make a difference in someone’s life.
Talk about how YOU are going to offer to be one of someone’s three. Teach them about ACEs, the importance of support systems, and let them know an offer to be someone’s “three” is an important gift that doesn’t cost anything.
Work together to create a handmade card, shoot a video, or set up a time to Facetime or Zoom. They can also make and send an ornament for a friend or loved one to keep up all year to remind them that they have your support.
Teach your kids to identify three people or resources they can rely on to create those safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. Also remind them of the importance of being someone’s “three” during the holidays and throughout the year because you never know when a friend or loved one will need them.
Keep the Calm
There’s a lot of uncertainty right now that can make us feel unsafe. COVID cases are on the rise, hybrid schools are closing and returning to virtual learning, and as winter draws near, we have less sunlight that our body needs for natural serotonin production.
- Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional. It’s important to reassure your children that you are there for them and that your family will get through this together.
- Keep answering questions about the pandemic simply and honestly. Talk about the frightening news they might hear while reinforcing that practices like handwashing, mask wearing, and staying home can keep your family safe.
- Recognize their feelings as a way to help them work through their worries.
- As hard as it can be, model how to manage feelings. Talk to them about how you’re managing your own feelings.
- Offer extra hugs and let them know you love them more often.
Maintain Healthy Routines
It may be tempting to let bedtime rules slide during winter break, but it’s important to maintain fitness, bedtime, together time, and other routines. Routines always create a sense of order to the day that offers reassurance in a very uncertain time. All children, including teens, benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs.
Enjoy Special Time In
Even with everyone home together, it’s important to set aside some special time with each child. Put your phone on silent and do something that they love together, even for 10 or 20 minutes.
Giving each child your undivided attention is important. This special time creates space for 1-1 conversations that will allow you to check in on each child.
Take a Step Back and Take Care of Yourself
Every single one of us is doing a lot right now. We can’t be our best selves for our kids, spouse, or colleagues if we aren’t mindful of the importance of taking care of ourselves. Take a step back and take care of yourself by carving time out of your day to do the things you love.
Reading, exercising, and catching up with a friend or loved one who is part of your “three” is important for maintaining mental health this holiday season and beyond.
How will you “be the three” this holiday season and help build safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, and environments?