Beat those “Winter Blues”

Beat those “Winter Blues” and help the fight against depression

Now that the holidays have ended and a new year is beginning, symptoms of the “winter blues” may appear as there is no more excitement of the various festivities around us, the school year is now in full swing and the weather conditions are worsening… The “Winter Blues” is a sometimes flippant expression used to sum up winter’s harshness; cold weather, confinement to buildings, lack of sunlight, and the melancholy mood of hibernation. This can sometimes settle into a depression, which is a serious illness that should be attended to and treated. Children are not immune from this and it should be monitored closely.

Childhood depressions is not a seasonal or easily predicted disorder, yet according to the National Health Association up to 2.5% of children and 8.3% of adolescents in the U.S. suffer from depression.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology estimates that about 5% of children are suffering from depression at any one time. A history of close family members with depression increases the risk of occurrence for children in that family. (, accessed Nov. 2011) Depression was once thought to be an adult malady. However, within the last thirty years, it has become clear that it occurs in children, as well. Children are diagnosed and given subsequent treatment more often than adults may think. It befits the welfare of the family for parents or guardians to recognize and educate themselves on the reality of depression in children.

No one can predict what causes an individual to develop depression. Two people can experience very similar situations yet have different outcomes. It is commonly and widely accepted that genetic factors play an important role. Having a biological parent who is depressed is the single most important risk factor for a child becoming depressed. Most people who are clinically depressed have one or more of the following causes:

Reactive – Depression as a response to environmental factors (family changes, changes in friendship, death of a loved one, or the end of a relationship)

Endogenous – Depression due to biological or genetic factors (brain chemistry change, hormonal changes/development, inherited predisposition to depression, trauma/injury to the brain)

Traumatic Environments – Depression as a reaction to an emotionally overwhelming experience or situation such a child abuse, harsh conflict, or real or imagined fears of physical or emotional harm.

Warning Signs of Depression in Children:


  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
  • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Persistent boredom; low energy
  • Social isolation, poor communication
  • Low self-esteem and guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses, such as: headaches and stomachaches
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Poor concentration
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior

Children need to speak it out, talk about their feelings, what is wrong and encouraged to use their words…. Encourage healthy eating, proper nutrition contributes greatly to overall health/mood. Make sure the child stays active, physical activity has been shown to help alleviate depression. Be creative in finding an “active interest.” Remind children that they are loved and cared about every day. Show expressed interest in what children have to say by being a good listener; good and bad. Children need the reassurance of love and acceptance. Accept the situation and praise the child’s efforts. No one can “snap out of” depression. Patience and understanding are required. Small efforts should be noted. If there are signs of a child contemplating physical harm (gives belongings away, preoccupied with death, speaks of self-harm, substance abuse) parents should notify the doctor and school immediately. Lastly, children need reassurance that depression is not something of which to be ashamed. Teach children it is alright to ask for help and provide names of people they can talk to (you, school counselor, pastor, etc.). Validate their feelings and commit to finding them the help they need.

Although depression robs people/children of talent, ambition and time, the good news is that it is treatable. Suffering can be limited and managed to ensure a healthy childhood despite the unwelcomed interruption of depression’s arrival. Parents need to be aware of its importance and appearance so they can be the first line of defense for children. Clinical depression will not go away on its own: it is not a wound that will heal over time; it is an illness that needs intervention to promote future health.

Activities to fight the ‘Winter Blues” and keep involved with your child

Gloomy, snowy winter days call for some creativity from Mom and Dad, a few ideas to help antsy little ones conquer cabin fever and stir up some wintry cheer.

-Spend a few minutes discussing his/her feelings. Start off with open ended questions or statements, encouraging them to use their words rather than a simple yes or no. “Do you feel now that all the activities are over?” Sometimes simply letting your child verbalize his/ her feelings helps put things in perspective.

-Plan a few low-cost special activities. Suggest the family have a game night every Tuesday or eat dinner by candlelight.

-Encourage children to think about others. Food banks and homeless shelters experience a dramatic drop off in donations after the holidays. Look for ways that children can help by donating toys, serving meals or visiting with residents of a nursing home. Thinking of others is the best way to build your child’s confidence by putting the emphasis on other people.

-Spend “floor time” with your child. This simply means you sit on the floor and let your child direct the activity. For parents it is difficult not to say, “Let’s use the blocks to build a garage.” Instead, keep quiet and simply respond to your child. Braid doll hair, race cars under the table or color in a traditional coloring book. Give your child undivided attention they need, doing what they want.

-Increase your child’s physical activity. In most parts of the country, we have a tendency to stay inside during cold winter weather. Put those snow clothes to good use and get outside. Take brisk walks around the neighborhood. Hide shelled peanuts in the backyard and let your children have a peanut hunt. Experience the exhilaration of riding bikes on a gloomy winter day. Go to a local park and feed wild life. The additional physical activity lessens the amount of time watching TV or video games. The entire family benefits from old-fashioned fresh air and exercise, increasing positive moods.

-Have an indoor picnic with your children. Spread out a blanket and pack a basket of your favorite picnic foods. Take this time to chat about what you miss most about the summer.

-Have a family night playing board games. Offer a grab bag of prizes (purchased from your local dollar store) or let the winner give up their chores for the day.

– Indulge your children in fun winter craft ideas. Make sure you are stocked on plenty of craft supplies so you don’t have to make a trip out in the cold weather. Doing these crafts with your children are the types of activities your children will remember for years to come.

– Share a day of cooking with your children. Cooking with your children teaches them valuable skills and also gives them precious time with you. Have smaller children help you measure, stir dry ingredients and count out ingredients with you. Allow older children to do things themselves under your supervision.

– Find out what your local library has to offer. Many offer amazing classes and story hours for children during the winter months. You can also take them to pick out their own books, movies and music to be enjoyed together or alone.

-Play in the snow with your children. Help them build snow angels, go sledding, build a snow fort or create a snowman. After a hard morning of playing in the snow, come inside and have a nice cup of hot chocolate complete with marshmallows and whipped cream.

– Plan a beach day in the middle of winter. What could be more fun than a little beach music, drinks with little umbrellas, a big beach ball and beach chairs?

– Make your own snow. All you need is soap flakes, water, liquid starch and white powdered tempra. Mix soap flakes with water into a thick paste. Let your child mix this with a hand beater. Add a small amount of liquid starch and tempra. Let your child create designs by painting with this mixture.

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