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Winter Break:

A snow day, a Monday holiday, winter break week….these used to be music to any kid’s ears. An unscheduled day at home meant lots of time to play games or have fun with family or friends. There are plenty of places to have fun in the snowy sunshine in WNY, too. Like Canalside and Explore & More Children’s Museum or down in Chautauqua County’s Ice Festival.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started almost three years ago, these days at home have taken on a whole new meaning. Now it’s online learning, more isolation and time away from the traditional classroom, routine, and friends. Kids will also pick up on stress from the big people in the house, too, as they cope with job issues, rising costs of goods and services, and other things that disrupt home life.

And it’s not getting easier. Late in 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Viveck H. Murthy‘s report cited significant increases in depression and anxiety in children and teens, and the start of a long-term mental health crisis for youth, fueled by COVID and the overall strain of being a 21st century kid.

Most school districts are about to start winter break week; districts that don’t take a February break may have disrupted schedules for weather and other reasons.  School social workers, teachers, and administrators are truly worried about kids this month and how the February stay-at-home days will impact their mental health.

There are things that parents and caregivers can do with the younger people in their house that can help kids stay on track this month. Start with the basics:

  • Healthy meals and snacks feed the body and mind;
  • School night sleep schedule keeps everyone rested and on routine; and
  • A winter day is still a good day to move around and get some exercise. Dress for conditions and take a winter walk, play in the snow, find a place with free or inexpensive ice skating or other diversions. Just keep moving and enjoy brisk air and winter sunshine.

Remember, the best defense is a good offense.  So be on the look out for signs of stress. 

  • This could include increased irritability and anger. Children may be more short-tempered during breaks even though they are out of school.
  • There may general changes in behavior, like a calm child suddenly acting out or a very active teen suddenly isolating to a room in the house.
  • A child or teen may complain of feeling exhausted or sleeping more than usual, or may suddenly start neglecting responsibilities or suddenly not wanting to engage in activities they once use to like.
  • You may notice sudden eating changes or getting sick more often (outside of COVID).

Again, this is information to take in and process.  Could this be a sign of stress? 

There are some situations that can’t be solved with a pair of ice skates, a board game, and a hug. Spectrum Health is here to help individuals and families ride out COVID stressors and get on the pathway to hope. Spectrum Health C.A.R.E.S. is ready to step in for any family in crisis, too.

The good news is that days are getting longer and more sunshine is proven to help lift our spirits.

Christine M. Ziemba, MS, LMHC

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