How to help kids with seasonal affective disorder

The winter months can be hard on all of us. With less sun during the day and colder temperatures, we tend to fall into a slump. For children, this can mean they’re getting lower grades or participating less in class. Sometimes it’s more serious than just a slump, however, and parents should be on the lookout for signs their child might need help with seasonal affective disorder 

Know the signs

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a form of depression that typically follows a seasonal pattern. It’s more common in northern areas like South Dakota and the Black Hills that have fewer hours of sun in winter months. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in mood or sleep patterns
  • Low energy or difficulty concentrating
  • Spending less time with family or friends
  • Lack of interest or loss of enjoyment in favorite activities
  • Decreased or poor performance in school

If your child exhibits some of these symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re suffering from SAD. It could be stress from starting a new semester, a change in their friend group, or even a relationship issue. 

The best way to know if your child is dealing with a specific issue or an overall feeling of depression is to talk to them about it. Talking to other adults in your child’s life, such as teachers, coaches, or employers, can also help you understand the full picture of your child’s health. Their teachers spend all day with them, and will likely have noticed a change in behavior and the severity of it.

Ways to help kids with seasonal affective disorder

The simplest way to try turning things around? Get outside. Physical activity boosts our mood no matter the time of year, but in winter it’s also important to spend time in the sun. Exposure to sunlight helps our body produce melatonin and serotonin, which helps keep our sleep cycle and mood in balance. Plus, the Black Hills are full of incredible outdoor activities and adventures just waiting to be had.

If the weather is too bad to be outside, open curtains in your home to let as much light in as possible. Encourage your children to spend time in well-lit rooms rather than dark bedrooms or basements. 

Diet and exercise can go a long way toward boosting your child’s mood too. Make sure they’re eating a balanced diet, both at home and during the school day. Pairing fiber-rich carbohydrates and lean proteins together is a great way to improve mood and get vital nutrients. Try making a healthy quesadilla with a whole grain tortilla with spicy black beans and plain Greek yogurt, or make a new secret family trail mix recipe with healthy nuts and dried fruit. These snacks are easy to make and great to take on the go, or pack in lunch boxes to take to school.

When to get help

If their mood doesn’t resolve after a few days, or you feel like your child is having more than a slump, it’s time to call a professional. Your child’s pediatrician or family physician is a great place to start. They can advise on the best course of action to help your kids with seasonal affective disorder.