Staying active, getting creative can brighten winter blues

young boy hanging head first over the edge of a couch looking very bored

Daylight hours are growing longer, and temperatures will soon be rising. Still, for now the days can too often be cold and gray. Put a few imaginative moves in play to add a bit of thrill to the chill.

Get back to basics, put happies in a jar, or add glitter to a tube

Winter, like every season, has different moods. Think of the sparkle-like-diamonds of fresh-fallen snow compared to the blech of that same snow, partially melted and muddied a few days later. Different moods are not bad—just different. For humans, some moods feel better than others, and fortunately, unlike the snow, we can change things up and often shift our mood to one with more sparkle.

In 2020, Melissa Santos, Ph.D., authored “5 Mental Health Tips for Kids This Winter,” for Connecticut Children’s, a health care system solely dedicated to kids. In short, she says to eat right, keep moving, watch your sleep (avoiding too much or too little), get some sunlight, and “build in extra mood-boosters.” For that last one, she suggests having kids create a “mood jar” full of “written reminders of things that always give their mood a lift—an activity, a memory, whatever. Go to the jar when they need a mood boost!”

DIY project showing 5 ingredients: confetti, clear liquid hand soap, water, tempera paint, glitter glue and a jar

The 123 Homeschool 4 Me blog, in a "January Activities for Kids" post, lists super fun ideas in several categories, gathered from multiple sources, for toddler, pre-k, preschool, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade kids. They include Fluffy Snow Slime from Natural Beach Living and a Frozen-Inspired Snowstorm DIY Glitter Sensory Bottle from Rhythms of Play, which says, “Sensory jars like this snowflake glitter bottle are most often used as a tool to help calm an overwhelmed child, or, as a meditation technique for children.” It adds that “As the bottle clears so does the mind. Calm down sensory bottles work wonders for adults too!”

Catch some rays to create sunnier days

fingers spreading apart window blinds to let in the sunshine

Though more common in adults, kids can develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression triggered by decreased daylight. Children’s Minnesota says that symptoms can include changes in mood; less interest in friends, social activities, and/or extracurriculars; difficulty concentrating; and changes in eating including craving comfort foods or sugary foods.

Treatment for SAD can include increased light exposure, light therapy, talk therapy, and medication. An article one SAD by Bill Simpson, writing for the Charleston Post and Courier, suggests getting “out in the sun at least 30-60 minutes a day, especially in the morning when research suggests that light is more effective at preventing SAD.”

The article quotes Norman Rosenthal, professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University “and the person who first described SAD,” as saying, “it isn’t the sunlight that reaches our skin that wards off SAD. It’s the sunlight that reaches our eyes.”

According to the article, when sunlight hits the retina, “it triggers the release of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.” In essence, seeing the sun can change our point of view!

In Dayton Children’s Hospital blog post titled “Weathering the ‘Winter Blues’ with Kids,” they point out that kids can pick up on a parent’s SAD. Some of their suggestions are opening the blinds to let in sunlight and cracking the windows to let in fresh air when possible, calling a friend, and getting physical by taking a walk or playing with kids in a park.

Simon says get moving, even if it’s just cleaning house to tunes

Kids Plus Pediatrics, a multi-site pediatrics practice in Pennsylvania, in “Keeping Kids Active in Winter,” urges layering up and getting out to breathe some fresh air, along with diving into classic winter activities such as skating, sledding, and snowshoeing. (Snow forts, snow men, and snow angels never go out of style!)  But they also suggest indoor facilities and classes as other ways to keep moving.

photos of three kids sledding, one kids making a snow angel, and two kids ice skating

The site reminds that classic games like Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light, Twister, Hopscotch, and Chase are easy to do outdoors or inside. (Inside, consider using tape vs. chalk for hopscotch).

They also offer up a game called Shadow, Shadow involving pairing up and taking turns as leader and follower. “The leader makes funny and exaggerated movements—running, skipping, walking, jumping around the room. The shadow must follow their every movement, while the leader can attempt to shake them.”

The site notes too, that some video games require “even more energy than walking on a treadmill.” They call this activity “exergaming.” 

In sort of two-for-one, Kids Plus reminds that even cleaning house burns energy, and “You can make it fun by playing music and dancing while getting the chores done together.”

Getting kids making and moving, along with seeing the sun, and doing those things with them, can help bring out winter’s best moods.

 family in winter mon holding one kid and dad with a kid on his shoulders bundled up outside excited as they face the sun to watch the sunrise