Avoiding the winter blahs

The holidays are a great time of year, especially for children.

The lights, packages, parties, and new toys. Excitement is in the air.

January is a different story.

In January, children often feel let-down as life returns to a routine of school, homework, ordinary family life, and the winter blahs.

Fortunately, there are ways to help.

Parenting experts offer the following tips:

– Spend a few minutes discussing their feelings. Saying something like, “Wasn’t it fun to have all your cousins over? You sure seemed to enjoy ice-skating, too. What’s it feel like now that all the activities are over?” Sometimes simply letting your children verbalize their 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. One mother used leftover holiday candles at the breakfast table. Since it was still dark when her children ate breakfast, the candles created a warm cozy feeling to start the day.

– 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. Children can also help with a local fund-raising drive for needy families. Thinking of others is the best way to build a 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. The point is to give your child undivided attention doing what they want.

– Increase your child’s physical activity. Here in the Upper Peninsula, we have a tendency to stay inside during cold winter weather. Put those snow clothes to good use and get outside. We’ve got some snow. Enjoy it. Take brisk walks around the neighborhood. The additional physical activity lessens the amount of time watching TV or on the computer. The entire family benefits from old-fashioned fresh air and exercise.

The winter blues can be a very real problem parents as well.

With their added stress and unwavering focus on their children, the winter doldrums may hit parents extra hard.

The winter blues can be worse for stay-at-home parents because of isolation from other adults.

Experts offer the following tips to help shake the blues:

– Get support from other adults. Spend time with your spouse, your neighbors, your family or your friends.

– Get some sleep. If you can’t achieve eight hours of sleep, steal moments to nap during the day or early evening. Ignoring rest for too long can dramatically affect a parent’s physical and mental well-being.

– Exercise. Exercise lowers risk of heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and stroke. In a survey of regular exercisers, 54 percent said exercise helped their stress levels and 60 percent said it boosted their self-esteem.

– Laugh. William James said, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy. We are happy because we laugh.” It’s true. A well-developed sense of humor can keep a person even-keel during stressful moments.

– Try something new. Volunteer, join a book club, see a play or start a journal. Partake in some adult activities.

Parents need to take a lesson in self-care.

In severe cases, parents should seek professional care if symptoms include exhaustion, hopelessness, agitation, depression or anxiety.