THE WINTER BLUES
Regardless of where you live, the shorter days of winter along with the messy weather can create havoc for our foster and adoptive children. We see a correlation between increased behavioral issues and the number of days children are not able to be outside for play. Children may span the continuum of being a Lethargic Larry who is unmotivated and can’t seem to concentrate to Bouncing Bob who is literally bouncing off the walls because of excess energy. If you wonder what has gotten into your child and why their behaviors have seemingly changed all of a sudden, then consider this might be a seasonal issue. The change of season and weather may be the cause behind the changes you are observing in your child. Being aware of these issues can help you be proactive and hopefully stave off those winter blues.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
Continue to meet your child’s physical needs during this season. This includes the two hour schedule of physical activity, calming activity, good protein snack and definitely hydration. It is easy to overlook hydration in the winter when we’re not hot and thirsty, but it is just as important to stay hydrated in the cooler months.
Moving: Warmer days provide time outside for our children to use their large muscles in activities like swinging, biking, running, and jumping on the trampoline. This need for physical activity does not diminish with the change of season. Consider providing a space indoors to meet this need for your child. It might be the corner of the garage or a spare room. A mini trampoline, gymnastic mat, collapsible tunnels or just some card board boxes a child can crawl through is a good start. Consider suspending a hammock or indoor swing from the ceiling to provide needed vestibular movement. Add a rice and bean pool for additional sensory stimulation. Utilize technology. Get moving with the X Box Kinect that has games for all ages and skill levels that will get your child up and moving. Consider a gym membership so that you have access to a pool and space where you can exercise. Monitor this activity so that your child does not become over stimulated which could lead to a meltdown.
Calming and Connecting: Just as your child needs movement, they also need to have calming activities. As our schedules slow in the winter, this is a great time to connect with your child through play. Set up a card table for puzzles or pull out board games for fun with your child. Establish a family movie night or read a good book together. Get in the kitchen and have fun making cookies. A project like making bread gives great proprioceptive sensory stimulation to your child as they have to knead the bread. Make or purchase some puppets and have your child act out a scene from their favorite book or movie. You may find them acting out and processing their own story.
Sleeping: Your child may be more listless and lethargic in the winter months as our body produces more of the chemical melatonin when the days are shorter and darker. Melatonin is the chemical in our body that promotes sleep. So, the child that is normally able to bounce out of bed in the mornings may be hitting the snooze button and pulling the covers over their head. Making certain that you have time out of doors in the sunshine will help.
Feeling: Recognize that for some of our children with sensory issues winter clothing could be sensory overload for them. Navigating extra layers, tight coats and sweaters, different textures (itchy wool), closed toed shoes and socks can quickly become a battle and cause meltdowns. Give your child the tools they need to communicate how they are feeling. For example; “This coat is too tight or hot,” “ I don’t like how this feels”, or “Can I have a compromise and wear a lighter jacket?”. Praise them when they are able to tolerate the necessary clothes needed to keep them warm and healthy. Be emotionally attuned to your child. If they seem uncharacteristically moody or have difficulty concentrating it might be the season. Sunshine produces the chemical Serotonin which helps with our moods and concentration. Getting outside for time in the sun will help the child that seems to be moody, irritable and forgetful. Take a walk around the block together when weather allows. While SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is not common in children if you notice a pattern in this behavior from year to year and the behavior improves as the days grow longer, then you might want to consult your pediatrician to determine if your child might suffer from SAD.
CONCLUSION: If you are experiencing the winter blues, some of these activities will help you too. Don’t neglect self care while you care for your children. As you consider all the changes that Winter brings for your child, and are proactive in the areas mentioned, it will go a long way in helping you and your child survive the Winter Blues and make it to Spring. Let’s all hope that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow this year and that Spring is just around the corner!
Developed by : Lynn Beckett, LBSW