by: Kathi Kemper, MD, FAAP
Feeling connected to the people and world around us is a key part of good mental health. COVID-19 vaccines have revived social activities in many communities. But families with children too young for the vaccine may still be spending less time with others. If spirits are sagging in your home, here are some simple steps that may help lift everyone's moods.
Sunshine can help brighten mood. Try to spend 30 to 60 minutes
outdoors daily with your children and other members of your family, whenever possible. Bright lights, especially in the early morning, can also help.
Get plenty of sleep
Try to help your children stick to
bedtime routines so they get enough
sleep each night. Some ways to help promote relaxation and a good night's sleep:
A shower or bath before bed
story, song, or relaxing music
A back, hand, or foot rub
A cool, dark room
Using the bed just for sleep (not using your phone, watching TV or doing work or homework)
Talk it out
Talk with your children and
teens regularly and be a good listener. Parents can also benefit from finding a friend or family member to discuss worries and disappointments. If conversation cannot be in person because of social distancing, then connect by phone, video calls, or other virtual connection.
Help your family eat wisely
protein-rich foods for breakfast and lunch. Protein helps keep your blood sugar stable and gives your brain the fuel it needs. Also, if possible:
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sources include
fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring); plants (flaxseeds, chia seeds, dark leafy vegetables, kidney beans, pinto beans, soybeans, walnuts, tofu); and certain oils (canola, soybean, walnut). Research suggests a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help support mood.
Choose plenty of
vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. They contain vitamins,
fiber, and minerals your brain needs.
Limit junk food and fast food. They're often full of fat, cholesterol, salt, and
added sugars, which can cause spikes and slumps in energy that may leave us feeling irritable.
Go for gratitude
Focus on the positive. For what do you feel gratitude or appreciation? Research shows that regularly expressing gratitude helps boost overall happiness, leading to lower rates of stress and depression. Help your child write down at least three people, places, events, or things each day that make them feel thankful. Keep your own gratitude journal, too!
Step it up
Help your children to
exercise or play so hard they break a sweat every day. When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals that can help boost mood. Remember to choose activities that help them stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your household. Also, try to avoid anything that involves sharing equipment such as balls, bats, and playground equipment.
Lend a hand
Helping other people makes us feel better about ourselves. It can be as simple as calling a neighbor or family member who is home alone or putting up a sign thanking people who deliver the mail. Help your children come up with at least one
kind act each day. Keep a journal of all the things you and your family do for others—even the little things.
Manage screen time
family media plan and limit your family's exposure to TV and
internet ads suggesting that buying things can make people happy. This will help limit messages about happiness that are false or unrealistic. It will also help you manage your family's exposure to upsetting news. Consider instead: reading, playing cards or board games with family members, working a puzzle as a family, playing music or singing together, making a video to share, cooking together or taking a family walk or bike ride.
Keep in mind: our electronic devices can also be used to create and maintain healthy social connections. You and your children may consider participating in online educational programs, virtual visits with grandparents and loved ones at higher risk from COVID-19 and participating in virtual online community events. It's also good to become familiar with telehealth options offered by your doctor and your child's pediatrician in case health questions arise.
meditating as a family or other relaxation techniques such as
yoga to help everyone decrease
stress and improve mood. There are helpful mobile apps that that offer reminders take deep breaths and other tips to relax. Time in nature may help too.
What if your child's mood doesn't improve?
Sometimes, steps like these aren't enough to improve your child's mood or reduce their anxiety. Be sure to contact your pediatrician if you are concerned that your child is struggling with stress or anxiety or if you are worried they might hurt themselves or someone else. Your pediatrician can also help determine if underlying health conditions or medications may be causing mood problems. They can also connect you with other health professionals such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker.
About Dr. Kemper
Kathi Kemper, MD, MPH, FAAP is a professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She is member of the AAP Section on Section on Integrative Medicine and is the author of
Mental Health, Naturally: The Family Guide to Holistic Care for a Healthy Mind and Body published by the AAP.