Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the family was perpetually on the go.

Between the children's various concerts, parties, shopping, and various preparations for family gatherings, there was little down time. Once all of the presents had been shed of their wrapping on Christmas, everyone was able to relax a bit and enjoy being with family.

The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve is a time when most family members have a break and there are fewer demands on their time. It is a perfect time to reflect and think about the upcoming year.

Most people will focus on making resolutions for the new year. Rather than doing that, it may be a better use of time to think about how everyone in the family is doing, particularly the children.

This past fall was more challenging for children than those in the past as most were coming back to school after spending most of last year attending virtually. Not only were classes online, but many sports and other activities were either cancelled or severely curtailed.

Going back to everything being in-person was quite a shock to the system for many children. It is one reason why child and adolescent rates for depression and anxiety have continued their upward trend this year.

Parents, too, had to readjust to the old normal of shepherding children to various activities, making sure they got to school on time, and resuming dinners on the go. It represented a sea change in the family routine from last year.

As a result, most parents and families spent this past fall doing their best to get through it all.

However, now is a good time for parents to assess the impact all of the in-person activities are having on family members' mental health.

The problem last year was most children and adolescents were starved for in-person social connection and something to do beyond gaming and binge watching videos. This school year the challenge may be having too much in-person activities.

One way to assess children and adolescents' mental health is to see if their behavior has changed from how they usually behave over the past few months.

Has there been an increase in irritability, fatigue, worries, or fears? Have their eating habits or sleeping patterns changed? Are they having trouble with making or keeping friends?

Any of these issues can be their way of saying they are having a difficult time and parents need to open the door in saying it is okay to talk about.

For instance, if an adolescent is increasingly irritable and fatigued it may not just be typical adolescent surliness but a reaction to being overscheduled.

Take a minute and plug in the time they are in school, practicing sports, doing homework, engaging in outside activities, and working. If those hours are reaching 80 to 90 hours per week, then it may be time to reassess and see what activities can be pared back or eliminated.

Taking the downtime to reflect this week on the family's mental health is time well spent. It can be too easy to overlook issues in the heart of the semester when everything is going on.

Spending time now can head off issues in the coming months. If a child or adolescent is already experiencing difficulties, this is a good time to reach out for professional help through counseling. Making the time to address mental health issues now will make the coming spring semester go smoother.

Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi ( Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (

React to this story:


Trending Video