Child Psychologist Post: Exercise Ideas to Help with Winter Blues

Shake the Sillies Out:

Tips for Parents to Help Their Kids Overcome Winter Blues

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A few weeks ago, as temperatures plummeted to below zero, we were all reminded that winter is fiercely knocking at the door. The combination of freezing temperatures and shorter hours of daylight doesn’t initially seem so bad. At first the snow is new and fun, especially if coupled with hot chocolate and warm fires. We also have Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah and the New Year to look forward to, which for kids and teens translates into winter vacation and a much needed break from school! However, the time right after the holidays frequently leads to a decrease in mood as a result of the natural let-down of the excitement and vacation coming to an end. For kids diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral difficulties, wintertime can be especially challenging. The change in weather means a drastic change in their daily schedules. They are no longer free to play outside during breaks at school, nor are they able to ride their bikes or play out in the backyard at home. However, the change in weather doesn’t change the energy level that these kids have, which means that energy is more likely to leak out in other (often inappropriate) ways. Oftentimes this manifests in an increase in irritable or depressed mood, hyperactivity, defiance, overly emotional reactions, poor sleep, and increased fighting with peers and siblings. So what can you do to help ensure your children are getting the activity and energy outlets they need? Below are some tips and strategies provide your kids with the activity their bodies need:

Find ways to stay physically active

Take your kids to a rec center to swim or play basketball. Consider joining the YMCA or other gym that caters to kid-friendly activities. Sign your child up for dance classes, gymnastics, or other organized indoor sports.

Be Creative

If leaving home or spending money on classes isn’t an option, find ways to foster physical activity inside of your home. Turn your spare room or basement into an exercise room or dance floor. Get an exercise bike, treadmill, trampoline, or yoga ball and allow your kids to work out their energy. Connect your cell phone to speakers or turn your TV to a music station and have a dance party. Remember that anytime a child is using exercise equipment they should always be under adult supervision, so take advantage of this and work out with them!

Limit screen time

It can be especially tempting during the cold winter months to plop your kids in front of the TV/iPad/video game console/computer/smart phone and allow them to relax and zone out (which also serves in giving you a break from them as well!). While there can certainly be a time and a place for this, remember that this in no way substitutes for the physical outlet they need and that the sedentary time can actually increase their need for a physical outlet. All screen time should be limited to 1-2 hours per day.

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Foster alternatives to screen time

So what do you do with your kids if you aren’t letting them watch TV or play video games? Find ways to foster their creative side. Encourage them to draw or paint a picture. Buy or make play-doh and help them make sculptures out of it. Read them a story or have them read one to you. Help them find a recipe (or teach them one you know) for baking cookies or making other simple dishes (scrambled eggs, pasta, etc.). Again, be sure to supervise your kids at all times if they are using knives, the stove, or the oven!

Allow room for boredom

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This may sound counterintuitive, but being bored can actually be good for your kids. The reason: it forces them to get creative and come up with things to do, and can especially foster imaginative play. Depending on age and developmental level of the child, they might need help generating ideas, so it is absolutely ok to offer ideas and support!

Keep up Vitamin D levels

One of the ways we’re all impacted by winter is that we have less hours of daylight. Exposure to the sun is what gives us the majority of the vitamin D we need, so a lack of exposure to the sun naturally decreases those levels. Keep this in mind, and whenever possible allow your children (and yourself!) time outside when it is sunny. This may take some planning ahead if it is cold, as you’ll need to bundle up in extra layers, but even as little as 10-15 minutes of sun exposure can help give your body the vitamin D it needs. Keep in mind that direct sun exposure to bare skin will allow for the most absorption of vitamin D, so you will need to balance this with what is appropriate given the temperature outside. Also remember that the sun is still powerful in winter, so the use of sunscreen is encouraged if your skin will be directly exposed for extended periods of time.

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