The sun will come out tomorrow…or will it? The short, grey days of winter can seriously dampen moods. As you and your family spend more time indoors, it can seem like boredom and irritability are more prevalent than fun and togetherness. Some people are more affected than others by winter weather, but studies show that children are more prone than adults to the sort of tearfulness and despondence that seems to creep up around mid January. All of us could use a little boost to get back on the sunny side, so take some of these tips to ensure your kids (and you) overcome the winter blues.
Exercise and outdoor exposure are essential to maintaining a good mood in winter. True, it’s probably cold outside, but the more time you and your kids spend in direct sunlight, the better you’re likely to feel. Even more important is physical activity. Just a little bit of exercise per day can raise your serotonin level, which helps ward off depression like a big bite of chocolate (in fact, chocolate boosts serotonin too, though you might not want to tell your kids).
If it’s too cold to play outside, devise a plan for physical activities inside. Young kids will love having a dance party every night, and older kids may enjoy trips to a skating rink or indoor swimming pool. If your children are into fall and spring sports, try to get them interested in winter sports, because any scheduled physical activity is a great remedy to winter blues.
If your area happens to be snowbound, there are lots of fun activities for kids to enjoy. Skiing, sledding, and pond hockey are all time-tested standbys. If you have a lot of snow on your hands, the construction of forts, igloos, and snow sculptures can provide an excellent diversion for the whole family (check out these snow sculptures for inspiration). On the other hand, avoid snowball fights – what begins as friendly can turn downright warlike. And whatever your outdoor plans may be, make sure your child is well-equipped for the weather, because a cold kid can turn mighty fussy. Check out our selection of winter gear!
When the blizzard’s roaring outside, it’s helpful to have a list of low-key indoor activities prepared. Board games? Should be a big checkmark next to that one. Calming music and reading are also good ideas. If your reading voice is getting kind of scratchy, try getting a recording of a favorite story, dimming the lights for mood, and inviting your family to relax and imagine.
Most importantly, be aware that people are a little more likely to lose their cool during the winter months. Kids may be more prone to tantrums and mood swings, so do your best to be supportive. If your little one grows abnormally depressed, it could be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and you might consult your pediatrician. But for everyday winter blues, a little understanding and a lot of active fun go a long way.
These days, it seems like all roads lead to the campaign trail. The 2012 presidential election is going to be a big one, and people are going to be talking about it all year long. In a democracy such as ours, ongoing political discussion is essential, and even children should participate. But the election cycle can also bring out some less than exemplary behavior from those involved: scandal mongering, mudslinging, and even name calling unfortunately seem like par for the course. As your children become aware of the political process, try these tips to keep kids well-informed and keep discussion fruitful and positive.
If you vote, consider taking your child along to the polls. The value, history, and mechanics of voting are things they’ll presumably learn in school, but it’s always best to see the process in action, especially for young kids.
If you keep up on politics yourself, you’ll have lots to share with your kids this election cycle. But unless you’re dead-set on molding your child’s political views, it might be best to leave your own views or party affiliation out of the discussion, at least at first. Ask your child which issues they’re interested in – the economy? health care? social issues? – then explain how various candidates feel about these things. Often, kids will want to pick a candidate right away, but ask them to wait about a month, and give them news coverage that’s related to their interests, from fairly unbiased sources if possible (Kidstalkpolitics.com is a good resource for young kids who want to hear what their peers have to say on these issues).
When it comes time to ask kids who they would vote for, ask them why. If their choice is different than the candidate you plan to vote for, tell your child why you disagree with them, but never disparage their choice. Instead, debate with them in a respectful, age-appropriate way. If you want your child to develop a well-rounded, well-informed political viewpoint, it’s your duty to encourage a positive form of debate (which may be drastically different than the sort of debating politicians so often demonstrate).
Depending on their school and grade-level, kids may be exposed to debate teams and current events curriculum, but it’s a good idea to watch some of the TV election coverage with your kids, and point out the differences between constructive debate and meaningless finger-pointing. The next time a roundtable of pundits is debating on TV, keep score with your kids: tally “Good Points” vs. “Rude Interruptions” and hold your own post-debate wrap up.
It can be illuminating for kids to learn how much of TV election coverage is negative, focused on “horse race” poll numbers, or just plain slanderous. Through all this, try and keep your children focused on the issues they care about. If they can look beyond the negativity and still hold true to their own values, then they’ve taken a very important step as a citizen. When it’s time for them to vote for real, they’ll be ready.
These days, it seems like one of the more prevalent concerns among parents and educators is that children just aren’t reading anymore. Then again, in an age of pulse-quickening video games, endless cable channels, attention-sucking mobile phone apps, and unlimited internet access, the idea of picking up a book can seem downright quaint. Thankfully, due to a handful of popular authors and their captivating characters, reading hasn’t totally fallen out of favor. However, getting kids to read books that don’t feature boy wizards and sparkling vampires may still prove to be a difficult task. Luckily, we’ve got some ideas on how to encourage your kids to read more, and more variedly.
With a little effort you can help your kids find the right books to match their interests. Do they like dinosaurs? Fairies and magic? Mythological Greek gods settling their conflicts with a not-so-friendly game of football? There are books out there that tackle these subjects and many more obscure ones. You can find recommendations at sites like The Young Adult Library Services Association, Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List, and Drop Everything and Read. These are great sources for narrowing down the vast field of children’s and young adult books to find one your kid will love.
If they need a little push, offer kids rewards and incentives for reading. Maybe let them stay up past their bedtime if the time is spent reading. Or perhaps exchange a minute of television or video game time for every minute of reading. Perhaps you’ll find that your children will want to polish off another chapter instead of blowing up aliens on their PlayStation.
The recent explosion of tablets and e-readers makes having access to books easier than ever before. These devices can hold hundreds, even thousands, of e-books, meaning your children can have a virtual library at their fingertips anytime. And you needn’t worry about spending a fortune to fill your child’s e-reader to capacity. Countless websites are devoted to the electronic distribution of literature; for example, Project Gutenberg offers the web’s largest single collection of free e-books.
It may take time and encouragement to instill a love of reading in your child, but once you do it’s as if you’ve pulled back a curtain and showed them a new dimension to their young lives. Books are ultimately transporting; they let you slip through time, travel to the far reaches of the galaxy, and even live another person’s life. Once your children discover the extraordinary power of books, they’ll almost never want to put them down.