Noticing your child's mood changing with the weather?
As the winter months arrive, the nights are getting longer and the days are getting colder, many of us may notice moods dropping with the temperatures.
Humans are undeniably affected by our environments; and children are no exception to this.
Research has shown irritability, fatigue, and sadness are all common and regular symptoms experienced in the autumn-winter semester in children and adolescents, and something to be taken seriously when the cold weather comes around (Rosenthal, 2012).
Some of these changes can be attributed to a condition called 'seasonal affective disorder', or SAD. This is brought on by the brain responding to much less daylight, and other related seasonal changes, and can affect children, teenagers, and adults equally.
The main signs of SAD in children include:
low mood and irritability
less interest in hobbies, school and friends
finding it hard to wake up in the morning and sleeping more than usual
low energy and concentration
As a child, I can remember my own early experiences of SAD symptoms; symptoms I can experience even now as an adult with every winter season. Waking up in the dark and knowing I'd be coming home from school in the dark was enough to make me not want to get out of bed, and the cold, wet weather often made me feel dull and demotivated. You may have had similar feelings as a child, teenager or parent.
These feelings combined with a period of coughs, colds, and uncomfortable wet clothes, means it's no wonder that my experiences are relatable to another estimated 2 million young people and adults in the UK diagnosed with SAD, and a lot more people who don’t even know they have the condition. Talk to most people at this time of year, and they’ll share similar stories.
Despite this being a common problem, there are things you can do at home with your family to boost your children's (or your own) mood if they're showing similar seasonal symptoms.
Here are some tips suggested by health experts BUPA to help your children tackle SAD this winter time:
Spend some time in the sunlight.
Although sunlight can be limited in the winter months, there is still some daylight you and your family can make the most of. Make a habit of scheduling some outdoor time into your daily routine- whether that be walking to school in the morning or going for a weekend walk in nature.
You can also bring sunshine into your home; open the curtains first thing in the morning and all day, and give children opportunity to sit near a window even when the weather is gloomy.
Encourage a balanced diet.
Try to provide a varied, healthy diet to get all the vitamins and nutrients that you and your children's brain needs. Although this is important all year round, it is even more important when your brain needs a little extra help. Now is also a great time to encourage your family to start taking a multivitamin, if you haven't already.
Plan things to look forward to.
Although S.A.D. might make children, and even parents, feel hopeless, it’s worth remembering and reminding them there’s plenty to look forward to and enjoy in the coming months as well. Make family plans, be social, and don’t forget to plan some relaxing activities as well.
Most importantly, be open with your children. If yourself, your child, family member or a friend shows signs of S.A.D. and they’re struggling to cope with daily life, it’s important to think about seeking medical advice from a GP.
"WINTER BLUES: Everything you need to know to beat seasonal affective disorder", Norman E. Rosenthal (2012)