Daylight comes in small doses this time of year, and just as the light diminishes, so can our spirits. It’s called the winter blues, and child-serving professionals may notice that the blues aren’t fading as quickly as the sun in some children and teens who have or are experiencing trauma.
Seasonal affective disorder (i.e., SAD or “winter blues”) can heighten symptoms of depression and anxiety, impact sleep habits, and decrease energy levels, making it hard to focus and function throughout the day. And while SAD can affect all children, studies have found it disproportionately impacts adolescent girls.
For those experiencing the compounding effects of SAD, a walk to a supportive friend’s house, a breeze in summer, can now be treacherous, and the classrooms students spend hours in five days a week can appear even grimmer. This can be especially true for children facing structural discrimination and poverty whose home and community environments may present additional sources of stress and discomfort.
Strong relationships and positive experiences can help break the blues
Organizations and schools can ensure their trauma-informed and responsive (TIR) approach to supporting children and teens will stand up to winter’s tests by strengthening relationships and engagement. TIR organizations prioritize supportive and mentoring relationships and helping children build healthy connections with their peers.
Across settings, professionals can foster positive experiences by infusing fun, releasing stress, spreading compassion, and building resilience. The following are some ideas for educators and staff to help break the blues of winter:
- Move: Improve moods and concentration levels by taking a break to dance or play charades. Head outside at noon and take a brisk walk around the building.
- Mix it up: Change the routine by rearranging the order of subjects or the seating chart. Ask a child to help you demonstrate a concept.
- Brighten: Contrast dreariness outside with color inside by showcasing artwork. Or wear bright clothing and encourage students to do the same.
- Help others: Acts of kindness make us feel good. Ask children and teens to write thank-you notes to each other. Create and display a paper chain of notes that express acts of kindness they’ve experienced; plan to add links to the chain every season.
- Offer validation: Let children know you recognize that their feelings and emotions are valid by dedicating time to have them write down their thoughts and emotions.
These activities benefit children and teens as well as the professionals serving them who have experienced trauma and are repeatedly exposed to it as a part of their job responsibilities. Managers and supervisors can support individuals on their team who might experience compassion fatigue by:
- Incorporating special programs or activities to provide staff a break from the routine
- Providing reflective supervision
- Modeling positivity in emails, conversations, and meetings
- Informing about programs or events that make the most out of the winter months on the Cape and in western, central and eastern, and north-central
Organizations may also want to spread the word about the Family Nature Adventure Program at Zoo New England, created to support families caring for children who have experienced difficult situations or trauma. Learn more by emailing email@example.com.
As organizations implement these various ideas and activities, it’s important to note and understand the triggers of trauma for individual children and team members and adjust their environments accordingly. By validating feelings, demonstrating compassion, and modeling healthy relationship behaviors, child-serving organizations are helping to increase the likelihood that children and teens, as well are their valued staff, will overcome the winter blues and bloom.
The Center on Child Wellbeing & Trauma provides information on trauma and healing and prevention strategies as well as resources and trainings, all part of its commitment to helping individuals and organizations support children. Please get in touch with our center with questions or comments.