How To Help Kids Suffering From The Winter Blues

With “Blue Monday” coming up — the day in January (this year, the 18th) unofficially dubbed the most depressing of the year due to the combined effects of cold weather and holiday credit card bills — it’s worth considering if this time of year gets the kids down, as well.

When school resumed this month, my 8-year-old complained bitterly all the way to school about having to wear snow pants. As in, “I hate my life.” And the night before, both kids were bemoaning the end of vacation. To be honest, I was a little anxious, too, when considering the onslaught of deadlines and work email that Monday would bring.

Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist and author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are, says the first week back after the holiday break is hard on everyone in the family. “The holidays are not just taxing for us as adults. Our adrenals become fatigued at times because we’re in this excitement phase over and over again. Our schedules are thrown off and our sleep is thrown off. Our bodies are hungover in some ways,” she says. From our kids’ perspective, Christmas was fun and now it’s back to reality. “They don’t want to be back to the school grind.”

If you’ve noticed that your child doesn’t seem like himself this week, chances are good it’s a function of holiday comedown and fatigue, says Roberts. But it’s good to remember that this comes on the heels of winter’s shortest days. After October’s switch from daylight-saving time, we’re not getting as much vitamin D or serotonin — a mood-boosting hormone.

Seasonal affective disorder, sometimes referred to as winter depression, is a subtype of depression that most commonly comes on in the darker, colder months. Somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent of people suffer from some degree of SAD, but it’s not well documented in children.

That said, if you suspect your child has depression at any time of year, says Sara Dimerman, psychologist and author of How to Influence Your Kids for Good, look for symptoms such as big changes in behaviour, spending lots of time in her bedroom, avoiding plans with friends, not enjoying the activities she usually loves, and changes to the way she eats or sleeps. “If it’s fairly intense and it’s been going on for a while — 10 days to two weeks — then I would speak to a family doctor to start to get a referral for a psychiatric evaluation, just to make sure that there’s nothing else going on.”

Another thing to consider is whether you’re modelling good coping skills during the winter months, says Dimerman. “Do you complain about the short days and the gloomy skies? Do you grumble about having to put on a coat and boots? Or do you embrace winter by making snow angels and building snowmen with the children?” If you suffer from SAD yourself, show your kids how you manage by using a special phototherapy lamp, saving for that warm-weather vacation or hiring a teenager to help shovel the walk if the task makes you feel overwhelmed, says Dimerman.

There are a number of things you can do to help your kids beat ordinary winter doldrums, too, says Roberts. She recommends investing in a minitrampoline, usually under $50, to give kids a way to have some active fun in even the coldest weather. “Exercise, going outside, eating a lot of protein, getting more recess time or doing something after school with peers … these are all ways to boost serotonin.”

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