Celia Dean, Clinical Psychologist at Kids Matter, shares her favourite winter-time activities, all of which are simple, free and fun…
As the end of October approached this year and the clocks went back, even with the knowledge of an extra hour in bed, my heart sank a little. I have to confess I’ve never looked forward to the winter months. The days of cold, wet, windy weather when everything seems so grey feels hard to greet with enthusiasm. I think some of this dates back to the challenges of ‘winter parenting’ when my two boys were younger. (They are now in their mid teens and I’m lucky if I can snatch more than a quick conversation with them!) Many a day was spent trying to find things to do with them as the rain lashed the windows. I always envied my friend’s little girls who used to spend hours drawing and colouring. This was not my world, my boys needed full on action and stimulation in order to keep them sweet, and even that didn’t always work! I was always on the search for things to do that were fun, creative, energetic and entertaining for us all, that didn’t cost the earth. I say all of us, because I too wanted to enjoy my time with my kids!
I think the winter months present a couple of particular challenges. Cabin fever being the most obvious. Even the most hardy of families who love winter will admit they spend more time indoors than in the summer months, which means we are all in closer proximity to each other for longer each day. We get bored and our children get restless. Going out takes more planning and chances are, screen time is up and physical activity is down! For me this was often not a great combination resulting in two energetic boys fizzing around like a sugar lump in a glass of lemonade! Coupled with this is, of course, is the loneliness I’d feel parenting inside on my own, feeling trapped by the weather with no other adult to talk to. I never expected to feel this isolation; it was so at odds with my dream of how family life should be.
So my survival tips for preventing those winter blues:
- The Magic of fresh air: Getting outside despite the challenges, always seemed to help, both them and me, even with all the layers of clothing needed. It’s proven that connecting with nature improves our mood and increases our sense of self-worth, so head outside when you can! Allow enough time to get dressed (no battles with sunscreen or mosquito repellent!) and teaching young kids the “toddler coat trick” is a genius way of getting kids to get dressed all by themselves (Google it). Once out, use nature to be your inspiration! Highlights were making patterns with autumn leaves (always take a photo to remember your artwork!). When it got really cold, collecting small leaves, flowers, twigs and berries on a walk and freezing them into a shallow container with a piece of string and then being able to hang them on the outside of the window to watch them as they gradually melt. Of course the colder the weather, the longer they lasted!
- Changing my view of winter: I don’t enjoy being cold but challenging myself to find something good about winter became a daily game for me. I used to try and focus on what I loved about winter rather than complaining, which never seemed to help. Trying to get excited about the rain for example, (they do rain dances in Africa, don’t forget) by looking at the weather forecast and planning an outing in the rain rather than feeling despair at another day cooped up inside! Looking forward to that rainy day so we could bundle up in raincoats and wellies, take an umbrella and go out with the intention of jumping in puddles, and enjoy not having to tell off your children for getting wet (you can always take some dry clothes and towel with you). Then there was the reward of warming up with a hot chocolate on our return.
- Reaching out to others: Sometimes acknowledging how we’re feeling can help energise us into making a small change. Making myself go to a community event, the shops, the library, or to the park when I felt particularly isolated usually helped as I was able to chat to other adults. And on indoor days phoning a new friend or an old friend, always helped me to stay connected and gave me the opportunity to share how I was feeling. And of course there are now many online parenting forums for gaining support.
- Being playful: Being caught up in all of the family demands; it’s easy to forget that the simple act of playing with our children is so important and can be such a golden opportunity to build a strong bond together; sharing fun experiences together. Our all-time favourite activity was building dens in the bedroom with bedding, sheets and pillows – this was always particularly successful especially if I hadn’t made the bed anyway! You can always take a torch under the covers and read a wintry story together. Speaking of torches, disco dancing in the dark was always a great one too, releasing all that pent up energy, and I could sneak on my favourite songs and dance too!
At Kids Matter we appreciate the challenges that parenting young children can present and how building on the joys of spending time with our kids through play can help them develop in all sorts of surprising ways. Who would have thought that just playing together can encouraging language, sharing and turn-taking skills, develop imagination, understand feelings better, learn about winning and losing (not always pretty) as well as building closeness with us. We so enjoy our Kids Matter conversations about play, sharing fun games and experiences whilst acknowledging the struggles of parenting. Building friendships within our groups can be so empowering as we walk the often tricky road of parenthood. After all, we are always learning how to be the best parent we can be, even in the depths of winter!
Celia Dean is a Clinical Child Psychologist and has worked in the NHS for a number of years in a variety of settings both in community and in-patient units. In recent years she has developed an interest in what helps parents cope with the demands and challenges of parenting particularly for those struggling with adversity. She lives in Devon with her husband and two boys and is keen to see parents in the South West of England have the opportunity to be supported and empowered through Kids Matter groups.