By Anna Marie Trotman

Winter blahs can affect us in many different ways, but this year can be particularly challenging. Let’s look at some of the things you can do with your family to offset the wintry blues and the fact that you and the kids might be stuck indoors climbing the walls.

Get Outside and Let Go

“It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” says Scott Sampson, author of the book “How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love With Nature”. (Some of you might know him as the host of the popular PBS show “Dinosaur Train.”)

If your kids are balking about getting outdoors or leaving screens, then “it’s time to execute an intervention,” he says. If there’s snow, get into it. If there are woods nearby, go play.  Encourage kids to dig in the dirt, pick leaves, turn over rocks, splash in ponds and hold wriggling worms. “Loosen up and find some hands-on nature experiences for the kids,” Sampson says,  “Don’t worry so much about the dirt and scrapes. Clothes and bodies can be washed; cuts heal. Nature connection is a contact sport, and nature can take it.”

Kids need physical activity, perhaps more in the wintertime than any other time, because it takes more effort to get moving. Many studies show the critical importance of unstructured free play, “the kind initiated and driven by kids, for boosting creativity, independence, confidence and a host of other characteristics,” Sampson says.

If your kids can’t give up screens, (or think they can’t) mix the digital and the real. Have them take pictures outside and make a photo essay afterward. Let them take video of their exploits, then make a short film and send it to friends.

You don’t have to make a big trek to a state park or hiking trails to get outside. However, there are so many wonderful nature centers to explore from downstate Delaware to New Castle County, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. You’re bound to find something close by, like Ashland Nature Center or the DuPont Environmental Education Center. Take a bike hike on the Jack A. Markel Trail or visit Whale Wallow Nature Center in Bear, DE. Here is a list of some fun places to explore.

Help Everyone out of Themselves

The important thing about elevating your mood and helping your kids is to rethink what you (and they) believe makes everyone happy. The biggest thing, especially with kids being at home from school, is that they are spending too much time with iPads, TVs and other screens. You need to help them distinguish between what they think of as true happiness, as opposed to gratification like playing Angry Birds or other “fun” games.  These activities may feel like it helps in the moment, but it doesn’t provide true joy.

Look for the things that will contribute to overall happiness and satisfaction in life. Studies show that kids and grown-ups alike find true satisfaction in helping others. One activity I found heartwarming is that kids are creating pen pals with people who are now isolated in nursing homes. Ask your kids what kinds of activities they could do to help others in this time of COVID. 

Keep up the routines as much as possible. If you do that, then the empty spaces where kids ask for screen time won’t occur as much.

And when it seems more serious than a bit of blahs

Kids really do suffer from seasonal affective disorder, says Adelle Cadieux, a psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The disorder is a depressive episode in fall and winter that gets better in spring and summer. The symptoms are the same as depression. In children, that includes irritability, defiance and behavioral issues. They will have more trouble doing things they normally do without a problem, such as homework, and they may withdraw from family and friends, as well as activities they typically enjoy. There will possibly also be changes in sleep and eating habits.

If you see this on a regular basis, it’s time to reach out to your pediatrician.

Bottom line: let’s get creative and find ways to get away from the screens. Have a dance party and get a little silly, make a batch of cookies, get some old socks and draw faces on them, and have the kids create a puppet show. Whatever you do, try to get out a little, create a “Wild Child” and do the dance with them.