As the lack of sunshine becomes a part of our daily lives, a certain gloom comes over many young people and is often assumed to be something ranging from “winter blues” to a depressive disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
According to kidhealth.org, “SAD is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern; SAD appears and disappears around the same times each year. People with SAD usually have symptoms of depression as winter approaches and daylight hours become shorter.” Once spring arrives and the days become longer again, they feel relief from their symptoms and a return to their normal mood and level of energy.
Surprisingly, there are people who experience SAD in reverse (apparently, summer is not an exciting time for everyone). The symptoms of SAD are a lot like depression, but the fact that SAD symptoms occur only for a few months each winter (for at least two years in a row) distinguishes it from other forms of depression. You may assume your child has “winter blues”—a common emotion for some Chicagoans this time of the year. But the problems caused by SAD, such as lower grades or less energy for socializing with friends, can affect their self-esteem and leave them feeling disappointed, isolated, and lonely, especially if they don’t realize what’s causing the changes in energy, mood, and motivation.
It is imperative that as parents and caregivers, you are checking in with your child in order to provide enough examples to share with your pediatrician. If your child is diagnosed with SAD, here are a few tips that parents can do:
Participate in your child’s treatment. Ask the doctor how you can best assist your child in managing their moods.
Find quality time to build a sense of connection with your child. Alienation exacerbates SAD symptoms. Positive human connection increases their energy level.
Assist with homework. Children with SAD may worry that they’re incapable of doing the schoolwork.Reassure them that your assistance is to be seen as support, not a handicap. You may also want to talk to the teachers and ask for extensions on certain assignments until things improve with treatment.
Stick to a sleep routine. Encourage your child to maintain a regular bedtime every day to reap the mental health benefits of daylight hours.
Though we can’t bring the sun down to warm and light up our winter days, we can make the best of the season by planning ahead on undesirable days. Do your research and get outside for some fresh air, plan a playdate, or have an indoor beach party with summer jams playing in the background!
Lastly, to make those grey days more bearable, count down every week with a special event such as an outing to an exhibit, or to your favorite restaurant. Having something to look forward to will only help to distract not only your child, but everyone enduring the notorious Chicago winter.