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While most kids – and probably many adults – were excited for the first snowfall, many of us are starting to feel like this gray and cold weather will never end. February may be the shortest month of the year, but it often feels like one of the longest. The warmer months of spring and summer seem so far off.

At this point in the year, it’s common to start feeling stir-crazy being stuck at home, and for some, to experience what we call the “winter blues.” And while adults are usually the most affected by the colder and darker months, even children can experience a change in mood and energy levels during the winter.

Fewer hours of sunlight can affect kids’ internal clocks, causing problems with bedtime routines and affecting sleep quality, leading to low energy during the day. This problem is compounded when the temperatures drop and prevent kids from being able to play outside.

School stress can also impact children’s moods. While they have a winter break to look forward to at the start of winter, once they return to school, spring break may feel like a lifetime away.

There are ways to help your family combat these feelings. First, make sure everyone stays active, including spending time outdoors every day when the weather permits. If you can’t go outside, encourage your kids to find ways to stay active indoors. Fun indoor activities might include puzzles, board game nights or whatever you agree on as a family to keep the winter more exciting.

You should also make sure to keep consistent bedtime routines, even when the daylight hours are constantly changing, to ensure kids get enough sleep each night.

It’s equally important to monitor for signs of more severe symptoms – some people don’t just have the “winter blues” but end up developing depression this time of year. While we usually think of seasonal affective disorder as an adult problem, it can also affect older children and teenagers.

When experiencing SAD, kids may have physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches. They may eat too much, or too little. They may also become withdrawn and no longer enjoy the things they used to find enjoyable. In many cases, they often feel anxious or become much more irritable.

Symptoms are more severe in the winter and then improve during the warmer months, coming and going seasonally for at least two years.

There are ways to help if you think your children have SAD. With milder symptoms, you can encourage your kids to go outside each day when possible, and when it’s sunny, make sure to keep blinds open to let in natural light.

For older children in areas without much winter sunlight like Cleveland, light therapy is option – there are special lamps available. And if you’re able to travel over winter break, consider a warmer – and sunnier – destination.

As is always the case with depression and other mental health concerns, it’s important to recognize when you should seek help. If your child is showing signs of depression and not responding to home therapies, talk to your primary care provider. They may recommend medication to help during the winter months or they can refer you to a mental health professional who can help develop coping mechanisms to overcome seasonal depression.

Overall, it’s important to monitor for signs of decreased mood or even true depression during the winter months, both for yourself and your kids. Through close monitoring and early intervention, you can ensure the whole family still enjoys this time of year – gray skies and all.

Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.

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