Written by Children’s Mental Health Ontario with clinical advice provided by Children First, Crossroads Children’s Centre and Central Toronto Youth Services
Many Ontario families will be juggling more than just the normal stress of challenging relatives and shopping this holiday season. Currently, one in five Ontario children and youth are suffering from mental health issues and a recent Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) Ipsos Public Affairs poll shows that over half of parents have had concerns over their child’s anxiety. The holidays can be stressful for all families but are an especially trying time for children who have previously, or who are currently, struggling with behavior or mental health issues. This time of year can bring up negative feelings for kids who have suffered a traumatic event, or can be a renewal of grief for those who have lost loved ones. Reduced sunlight and time outside can also trigger bouts of depression or seasonal affective disorder.
All of this would be stressful enough without the added expectation that this should be “the happiest time of the year.” This is why CMHO and some of its Toronto member agencies Children First, Crossroads Children’s Centre and Central Toronto Youth Services, have gathered the following tips to help everyone enjoy their holidays just a little bit more.
Holiday Mental Wellness Tips:
- Plan your schedule in advance. Allow your child the prep time to prepare for what will happen before an event, party or outing. Share with them who will be at each event, where you are going and try to answer all their questions. Discuss what situations may arise and come up with a plan that will work for all of you. If your child is a teenager, you can discuss and negotiate what the plan will be.
- Make sure everyone is eating and sleeping. Especially for your younger children, try not to vary too widely from meal times and sleeping routines. This may not be plausible all the time. But do your best. For teenagers, try to ensure they go to sleep and wake up at reasonable hours, it’s not a school day, but sleeping until 2pm and going to bed at 3 am isn’t recommended.
- Have realistic expectations. Things don’t need to go perfectly, adjust where needed. For example, does it make more sense for your family to spend one hour at the party rather than five hours?
- Communicate openly about feelings with your child. Discuss with them how they are feeling, or what’s making them anxious. Be available throughout any outings or parties so they know they can come to you for support if they need it. A little one-on-one time throughout the holidays will help you get a better sense of how your child is feeling.
- Find a quiet place and plan ahead for boredom. Find a spot during a holiday activity or party where your child (or you) can go for a break. Don’t force your child to interact with other kids or adults if they don’t want to. Let them have that time on their own to regroup. If your child is young, bring books or a bag of special toys. If your teenager needs to decompress with a game on their phone, that’s ok. Make sure to check in periodically with how they are doing to make sure everyone is still enjoying the activity, or if maybe some quiet time is needed.
- Don’t worry about other people’s judgements. People may ask insensitive questions or make comments about your child’s behaviour. Sometimes they are trying to be rude, other times, they’re just trying to understand. Have a quick sentence or two ready that explains your child’s issues. This will help you stay calm and to keep from overreacting.
- Take care of you. The holidays can be a stressful and anxious time for parents too. Make sure that you are eating, sleeping and enjoying the holidays as well. Maintain healthy boundaries. Take time when you need it, don’t feel guilty saying no when you need to. Do what is best for you and your family.
If your child is in a crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department directly.
If you need mental health crisis support for children / youth please contact Pathstone Crisis Services 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-800-263-4944