Parents work every day to ensure that their children eat healthy food, get enough sleep, and spend their days learning and playing in safe environments.

But with so much focus on children’s physical health, sometimes children’s mental health goes overlooked. As the holidays approach, it can be even easier to miss signs that children are experiencing negative mental health symptoms.

Though often busy, the holidays should be a time of celebration. Help your whole family stay happy and healthy this December by using the following 4 tips to protect children’s mental wellness:

1. Start By Listening

Though the holidays and winter are a busy time for everyone, make room in your schedule to really listen to children. Go beyond asking about their day to get a sense of how they are feeling. Sometimes, simply showing your support can lift a child’s or teenager’s mood. Regular conversations and quality time will also help you notice any worrisome behaviors or attitudes that might indicate negative mental health symptoms.

2. Encourage Physical Activity

When winter rolls around, temperatures drop, and children are less likely to spend time running and playing outdoors. Reduced physical activity is known to have negative impacts on children’s physical and mental health. To fight the winter blues, encourage playtime and sports as a family. Visit your local gym or community center to boost feel-good chemicals like serotonin. Try an indoor sport the family can play together, like tennis. As a bonus, you’ll burn some holiday calories in only half an hour (169 calories for women, and 208 calories for men, to be precise!). By exercising together, you’ll all stay in better shape, and share those happy feelings that come from breaking a sweat.

Invest in Light Therapy

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) impacts nearly 6% of the population, causing children and adults to experience depression-like symptoms during the colder months. Though researchers still aren’t quite sure what causes S.A.D., many believe that reduced light levels during winter months contribute to symptoms. 

The rising influence of digital screens and LED lighting only makes light-triggered symptoms worse; 56% of U.S. households use LED lights, even though “blue light” from cool-toned LED sources have been linked to poor sleep and worsened mood. 

To help children who may have S.A.D. or be sensitive to light, try getting kids out in the sunshine more through short daily walks. If that doesn’t cut it, reduce or eliminate blue-light sources, and use a phototherapy lightbox. These devices mimic natural sunlight indoors during colder and darker winter days. A lightbox may help your child feel happier, more relaxed, and more sociable until the sunny days return with spring.

Consider Counseling

Finally, consulting a mental health specialist might be the best way to protect children’s mental health through the holidays and the winter season. Though it may seem odd to take your child to a therapist, youngsters all over the country benefit from counseling services. In fact, about 10% of U.S. children ages 3 to 17 received professional mental health counseling or treatment in 2016. Having your child speak with a professional can help you discover the root of their symptoms. Counselors can also help you understand possible diagnoses and can provide your family with coping strategies to alleviate any unpleasant symptoms.

Though holidays and winter fun bring joy for many, sometimes they can also trigger negative mental health symptoms, even among children. Pay attention, and take action when needed to encourage mental and emotional wellness for the whole family. With light therapy, physical activity, and perhaps counseling, you can ensure that your young ones feel supported this holiday.