The light is minimal. The weather is uninviting. We’ve had a let down from celebrations which involve gifts and food and a mild amount of gluttony. As adults, we all feel it. We even have an awareness day called ‘Blue Monday’ to remind us to watch out for ourselves and each other (This year it was 20/01/20). However, it can be so easy to forget the unique way children experience this phenomenon.
Children have often just been through a very intense month. Lessons are often jumbled. They have had a break from school. They have also (more often than not) had an increase in high sugar, high fat foods. Also, January is notorious in education to be a “nose to the grindstone” kind of month. This is quite the juxtaposition from a month of merriment coupled with down time. Add to this the lack of light and the way the weather minimises their ability to go outside and you have the perfect recipe for moodiness and restlessness.
Luckily, armed with the right tools, parents and carers can make a huge difference to their child’s mood through the winter. Here are a few key areas for helping children learn to regulate their mood even on the darkest, wettest days.
Know Your Child’s Mood
Just like adults, children manifest the blues in very personal ways. Some children slow down and look melancholy. Other children actually become hyper and non-compliant. Others become incredibly sensitive and easy to offend. Take a scientific observer approach and notice and name the way your child looks and behaves when they have the blues. This way, you can help make them aware of what their body does so that they can notice the need for regulation in themselves.
Fight Boredom in Children with Preparation
Boredom is not the same thing as having nothing to do. Boredom is actually a stress state. It is the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to do with yourself. Sit down with each child at a time when you are both feeling OK. Brainstorm a list of things that your child can do when they are ‘bored’. Then, refer to the list should your child be exhibiting boredom. If the list is long, this might be overwhelming. In this case, choose 3ish options from which your child can select for an activity.
Make Tech Time Rules Ahead of Time
Tech can be a very alluring alternative to being bored. The flashy light and easy story that comes with TV shows and games keeps our lazy brains just busy enough to not be bored without allowing any real thought process to happen. There is a time and place for tech in all of our lives. However, it can easily become addictive and lead to a loss of interest in activities that require a bit more effort. Decide how and when tech time should be a part of your child’s life and stick to it. This way, you don’t create a rod for your own back once the sun starts to reappear. Just like mood, children need to know how to regulate tech. Teach them that it is not there as a time filler, but simply an activity for a small part of their day.
Emotion Coaching Is Key
We do all we can to provide a space that is engaging and minimises stress. Sadly, there will still be times that your child will get the blues. This is a time that provides a great opportunity to coach your child through noticing, naming and regulating their emotions. We have to remember that it is not our job to fix things. It is our job to provide the language and guidance for them to fix themselves. Emotion Coaching skills are the best way to do this whilst at the same time providing a space for parent child bonding.
Check in with Yourself
When looking at things through the lens of parenting, it is very easy to forget about the parent. I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this, but parents are…people. That means that we also feel the winter blues, get low, get bored and become irritable. It’s OK to be a person whilst being a parent. Check in with yourself before engaging with your children and make sure that you are speaking from a calm and helpful place rather than one of frustration. If you have an occasion where the blues spoke first and you engaged in a way you wish you hadn’t, let your kids know that you made a mistake and ask for their forgiveness. This is a wonderful opportunity to model how to do this. It lets your kids know that they can also make mistakes and be forgiven. More importantly, forgive yourself and let it go. We are running a marathon, not a sprint. A little stumble is OK.
Educating Matters offers an amazing seminar on Emotion Coaching in corporate and educational settings. For more information on this and all the other ways we offer support click here
Remember that winter is finite. The sun will return. Before you know it, the park will be less muddy and the garden more appealing. Implementing a few strategies will make the winter turn from bleak to cosy.