A girl wears a winter coat while standing outside a home in West Virginia.

Shorter days combined with waking up on dark mornings can cause some children to experience the winter blues. Spending time outdoors can provide mental health benefits for children.  

9 Ways to Help Children Prepare for the Winter Blues During COVID-19

As summer clothes are packed away and winter coats emerge from storage, the shift in season signals many changes for children. Days will get shorter and shorter. The crisp autumn air will soon turn into blistering cold, taking with it so many of the fun—not to mention low-risk—outdoor activities that provide children and families with a much-needed break from COVID-19 restrictions.

As the pandemic continues to spread globally, children continue to be affected by both the virus itself and the financial, social and emotional impacts.

A recent survey from Save the Children revealed that more than 3 in 4 households have experienced an income loss since the start of the pandemic. Some children across the nation have yet to return to in-person learning. And because coronavirus is disproportionally affecting older adults, many extended families may find themselves celebrating the holidays remotely.  

The survey also shows that children have been overwhelmingly affected by negative feelings as a result of the pandemic and the disruption to their lives, including socializing and school. In response to the survey, more than 8 in 10 (83%) of children reported an increase in negative feelings. These feelings, combined with shorter days and waking up on dark mornings, may find some children feeling the "winter blues."

Here’s how our experts recommend helping children prepare for this unprecedented winter.

  1. Be honest. Explain that, as the season changes, so too will your child’s daily schedule, habits and activities. Some of these changes are due to the pandemic, but many of them are simply related to the new season.

  2. Prepare for change. Talk about what the change in seasons can mean for your family. It may be dark outside while your child waits for the school bus, for example. And ice or snow-covered sidewalks may put bike riding on hold for a bit.

  3. Discuss possible COVID-related restrictions. As the temperature drops, it’s possible that new restrictions around social gatherings may be put into place. We know that, coupled with the transmission rate in the area, indoor activities carry a greater risk than outdoor ones. This may mean children’s winter indoor sports, activities and get-togethers will need to be adjusted, or even canceled this year.

  4. Make a list of cold-weather activities. Just because beach weather is over, outdoor activities with kids can still be enjoyed. Gather as a family and challenge one another to name favorite cold-weather pastimes—from sledding to scavenger hunts—and then keep the list posted in view.

  5. Commit to time outdoors, every day, when possible. Once you have a go-to list of fun and games, commit to spending time outside, even as the temperature drops. Studies, including a recent one from Aarhus University in Denmark, spending more time in nature can provide mental health benefits for children.

  6. Review winter safety tips. We know the winter weather can lead to dangerous conditions for kids – and injuries too. That’s why our experts put together these 10 Tips for Keeping Children Safe in Winter.

  7. Check flu vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines suggest that children 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions. They have also noted it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this fall and winter, making it more important than ever to get vaccinated.[i]

  8. Arrange for virtual connections. Schedule time to connect remotely with family, especially older family members who may be disproportionally affected by the pandemic. Similar scheduled times with classmates or friends can also be helpful for allowing children to maintain connections despite social restrictions.

  9. Keep a schedule. As the amount of daylight decreases, it’s important to keep a schedule that reinforces routines. Keeping wake time, bedtime and mealtime consistent helps children maintain their daily rhythm through winter.
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