New Canaan’s initiative to encourage healthful and fun family time over the next 30 days can pay dividends in more ways than you might think. But like me, you might be saying to yourself, “Haven’t I just spent the last 12 months cooped up with my family?” While there’s no denying the fact that this pandemic-driven “togetherness” lasted far longer than we ever expected, staying involved and connected with our immediate family is vital to making sure kids feel supported as they venture back into larger social settings. More importantly, time with our kids provides opportunities to check in on their emotional wellbeing.
Mental health issues among kids and teens have skyrocketed this past year. In 2020, the CDC reported a 24% increase over the previous year in emergency room mental health visits in children aged 5 to 11. That number rises to 31% for 12 to 17 year-olds.
While both sexes have been impacted by the repercussions of remote schooling, cancelled activities, and the lack of social interaction with their friends, girls seem to be hardest hit. According to a recent CNN article, teenage girls were almost twice as likely to have experienced anxiety or depression than their male counterparts during the pandemic.
Regardless of whether you are a parent of boys or girls, by spending quality time together, parents can more readily recognize signs of a child in distress. Remember, our kids want to know everything will be okay. The support and love that comes from family is a powerful counterbalance to the feelings of anxiety, fear, and loneliness that they may have felt over the past year.
Ideas for fun activities to do as a family don’t necessarily require a purchase. For example, a backyard obstacle course with various types of sports equipment and household items can be quickly set up and geared toward any age. From balls and cones to wheelbarrows and recycle bins, a series of stations that require different tasks and acts of physical fitness gets everyone moving. Add timing to make it a bit more competitive. What I love about this activity is that it is outdoors, giving you and your family plenty of sunshine and much needed vitamin D; a natural mood-booster!
Give your kids the skills they need to thrive. As I mentioned before, teenage girls experienced higher rates of feelings of anxiety and depression than teenage boys during the pandemic. LiveGirl, a Connecticut non-profit based here in New Canaan, works to give girls the confidence they need to become inclusive leaders. Check out their upcoming program “Becoming an Inclusive Leader” on April 20th at 7 pm. Middle and high school girls can register here to learn from a panel of female professional leaders on what it takes to go beyond stereotypes and discover their own path to success. LiveGirl also offers free one-on-one mentoring for middle school girls who are experiencing feelings of loneliness or isolation due to the pandemic. The She Cares program allows girls to speak confidentially to professionally trained mentors and can also help with friend stress, school pressure, and any other confidence issues.
Head over to Irwin Park for a walk and a family picnic. Nothing feels more springlike than spreading your blanket down in the midst of a field of daffodils, which are in full bloom during April! A little further into spring, families will want to make a return visit when a group of hungry goats will take residence once again on May 21st. Thanks to an initiative started by the Garden Club of New Canaan, the goats help control and remove invasive plant species growing along the rear of the property.
Get the entire family involved in composting. It’s easier than ever now that we have a food scrap recycling program at the New Canaan Transfer Station! Composting is a hands-on activity that teaches our kids to help our environment and cut down on food waste. Have family members collect food scraps and leftovers and deposit them in one of the designated bins courtesy of Planet New Canaan.
Whatever activity you choose to do with your family, it’s critical that we as parents remember to keep connection and communication lines open and flowing with kids and teenagers. Quality family time doing fun activities is a great way to facilitate conversations and keep your finger on your child’s emotional pulse.
LiveGirl Board member, New Canaan parent