Winter can be tough on all of us, and this year is certainly no exception. Julia Clements, Principal Educational Psychologist at Place2Be, shares six tips for supporting our own, and our children’s mental health during the colder months

The winter months can sometimes be tough on our mental health. This year, children across the UK are also faced with the reality that they may not be able to get together with their friends and loved ones over the holidays as they usually would. As the end of the year inches closer, and the days become shorter, it’s more important than ever that we look after our children’s mental health.

Our Place2Be mental health professionals - who are based in schools - estimate that 85% of the young people we supported through the first lockdown have been negatively affected by the pandemic.

We know that this year has been tough for many of us, but especially for children and young people. As a parent or carer, you may be worried about your child and how they’ll cope during the winter months, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you promote good mental health for your children over the holiday season.

Focus on the things you can control

There may be some important family rituals and routines that will not be possible this year, whether it’s visiting extended family and sharing traditional meals or the annual photo with Santa. Focusing on what might have been and the things that are out of our control can be emotionally draining, so try instead to focus on what you can do to help your child feel excited and positive about the holidays.

Maybe you and your child could decide to have their favourite dinner, and you could all dress up for the occasion. Or organise a movie night where your child picks their favourite movie to watch together. You might even create some new family traditions!

Get out and about

As the winter sets in and the afternoons grow darker it can be less appealing to head outdoors, but fresh air, natural light and exercise can still be great for our mental health, even in colder weather!

If you’re able to, wrap up warm and try encouraging your child to spend a bit of time outside, even if it is only for a little while. A simple change in scenery can help improve your mood - and can also serve as a valuable break from screen time.

Stay in touch

We are all more limited in who we can spend time with over the holidays this year, so it’s important we find ways to help children stay in touch with their extended family and friends. Sending photos and short video clips to friends and loved ones can be a fun way to stay connected.

Be creative

Being at home for a few weeks over the holidays could be a good opportunity to find a new creative outlet. Being creative is a great way for children and adults to express their feelings, thoughts or ideas. This could be through art, music, writing and poetry, dance and drama, photography and film, or any activities that make you feel good. We’ve shared lots of creative activity ideas for families on themes including space, seasons and superheroes.

Keep a diary

If your child is struggling with some difficult feelings, it can sometimes be helpful to write some of their feelings down in a diary, or on their phone. Encourage them to make a note of things that they find helpful or things that seem to make them feel worse.

Writing things down can make them easier to process. Try helping your child to break down any problems into manageable chunks, and approach them one step at a time.

Take time to reflect

New Year is a great time to reflect on the past year. 2020 has been particularly challenging, but it can be comforting to try and find the positives within a difficult time, no matter how small. It could also be a chance to look forwards and start thinking about the year ahead - what is your child most looking forward to? Is there anything they’d like to achieve next year?

If you or your children are struggling, it’s important to talk to someone. If you would like to speak to someone immediately, Samaritans is a listening service that is completely free and available 24/7, while Shout and Childline are available for children in need, at any time of the day.

You can also connect with therapists online or in-person on Counselling Directory.

Place2Be is a children’s mental health charity providing in-school support and expert training for schools across the UK. Working in partnership with schools, teams of mental health professionals help to create a culture of openness and promote positive mental health. Place2Be is grateful for its generous supporters, including the People’s Postcode Lottery.