Useful websites for further support
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.
This is something you are likely to hear from your children a number of times over the course of the summer holidays. I think children today more than any other generation before are so used to structured after school activities or sitting indoors in front of a screen that they literally don’t know how to keep themselves busy.
Parents mistakenly think it is their job and responsibility to keep their kids happy and occupied but children have to learn how to entertain themselves. Unstructured or down time is actually very important for children’s mental health.
Your main role as a parent is to set your child up for life as an adult and prepare them to be part of society. Children need to learn to do things for themselves and when they become adults will need to be skilled at managing their time (including leisure time) and pursuing interests that contribute to their happiness. The learning starts now in childhood.
Why is unstructured time so important?
- Kids learn how to be alone and actually have time to just be, think and contemplate life so they are comfortable in their own company.
- Creativity and imagination is more likely to develop if they are not in front a screen and need to occupy themselves. For my younger 2 daughters despite having lots of toys and games at home, their favourite activities are role play (mums and dads, doctors, restaurants) and drawing.
- It’s a great advantage for children to have at least one passion, something they have chosen that they really enjoy and work hard at. Without unstructured time they have little opportunity to develop this. For my eldest child it’s music, my second art and the third gymnastics. My youngest has yet to find hers.
- Being bored encourages self -reliance
How can parents respond when their child is ‘bored’?
- Firstly establish whether they are saying this because they are craving your attention. Make sure you are scheduling bursts of ‘special time’ with each child and opportunities to connect with them.
- Encourage your child to brainstorm activities they can do when they feel bored and perhaps contribute your own ideas. If they are old enough encourage your child to write the ideas down so they can refer to them next time they are bored.
- Limit screen time so they have to get into the habit of finding something else to do. Screens and particularly games on screens are purposely designed to be really engaging and addictive, providing a boost of dopamine so children want to use them and every other activity seems less exciting.
- For younger children I love Sean Covey’s book the 7 Habits of Happy Kids with the story about Sammy squirrel and it being his responsibility to make fun for himself.
Just to be clear it is mainly your child’s responsibility to keep themselves busy and not yours. You need to give them the experience of being bored and the skills and ideas to handle that feeling rather than just trying to avoid it.