Right now, many parents are trying to manage life due to the coronavirus. For many young people, cold weather and shorter days can also bring about the winter blues. Sad feelings, lethargic moods, greater anxiety, or mild depression can accompany the winter season.
As parents, you might also be struggling with your own seasonal blues on top of navigating work while educating, organizing, and occupying your kids. You are likely all suffering from the challenges of this season. But do you find yourself trying to maintain order rather than foster relationship? Whether it’s life in quarantine or winter blues, the struggle tends to be similar: We are tempted to look for ways to survive more than looking for ways to engage our children and help them thrive.
There are signs young people may be struggling from the winter blues, too. Here are a few:
- They appear sullen, lethargic, sleep more, and are less motivated than usual.
- Their thoughts, attitudes, and self-expressions seem darker, perhaps pessimistic.
- They share a sense of general sadness, depression, or anxiety without pointing to a cause.
We can focus on the gray cloud (shorter daylight, more melancholy moments, kids stuck inside, etc.), or we can look for the silver lining (an opportunity to spend time together, draw out our kids’ feelings and struggles, and develop closer ties with them). It is essential that we, as adults, model healthy ways of managing seasonal distress and cabin fever for our kids. Young people need to know they can go through dark days, winter seasons, and sad moments with tangible comfort in the present and hope for what’s to come.
Here are some principles for how we can foster resilient emotions and attitudes while drawing closer to our kids during the winter months.
- They need God’s personal comfort and presence displayed before them. When a child or teen is feeling down, knowing someone is walking alongside them always makes it more bearable. A hug, pat on the shoulder, a warm smile or simple, “I care, and I am praying for you,” means so much. As an adult, demonstrate God’s very present help in time of trouble (Psa. 46:1).
- Commit to developing stronger, loving relationships with your kids. Building safe, godly connections is vital in helping them deal with the seasons of hardship in their lives. Being at home more together gives us an unexpected opportunity to do so. Decide that you will look for new ways to draw them out and engage them in meaningful conversations.
- Look for ways to not just draw out your kids but point them to the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 sets up this mentality for us. Good questions and conversations can reveal what our kids believe about life, themselves, and God. It provides insight to where they struggle with depression, disbelief, secret fears, insecurities, sinful tendencies, or sadness. Having meaningful conversations with them will foster a sense of feeling known and understood by you—and the Lord. Pray for ways to woo them to wanting to know Christ personally. Here are a few suggestions:
- Challenge yourself to ask thoughtful questions and help them articulate their feelings. Use apps, aides, and conversation starters that are readily available, and modify them as needed.
- Find out what they are thinking about. Aim to know how they process what they think and feel and why. Then help bring truth, hope, and wisdom into the conversation.
- Ask them what they think about God. Explore ways to help draw them to the Lord and his ways. We want to try to build bridges to personally connect them to a personal God.
- Consider follow-up questions that keep your kids sharing.
- Ask yourself what their answers reveal about their needs. There may be a need to get additional support: a youth pastor, mentor, or counselor. Be willing to ask for outside guidance and input.
- Look for ways to encourage them. Simple statements, kind words, and giving them hope and a bigger perspective is life-giving.
- Be thoughtful and creative in the way you set up family time and routines in your home. Intentionally turn off electronics during certain time periods and offer something in its place. It is very tempting for young people to retreat into technology in ways that can contribute to their loneliness and isolation. Pursue time with your child, and get them out of their own world. Take a walk, make a coffee run, or play a game to pull them into an activity that reorients their focus.
Young people need to know they can go through dark days, winter seasons, and sad moments with tangible comfort in the present and hope for what’s to come.
Gather the family for an activity. Consider your kids’ ages, interests, and your family dynamics. What will engage them? If something you try is a flop, don’t let that discourage you. One day they reject your efforts, the next day they accept. Success comes by trial and error, so keep trying. Even if an idea doesn’t pan out, your attempt instills the value of personal connection with the whole family.
Remember, when trying to have deeper relationships with a young person, be okay with resistance. Not all kids (especially teens) will appreciate what you’re doing and may do their best to avoid entering in. Children may complain, tell you they don’t want to, give short or dismissive answers, and sit and refuse to engage, but they are still benefiting from seeing an adult who wants to be with them and “do life” with them. Though it appears to be fruitless, do not grow weary in the pursuit. Try using humor in response to resistance rather than frustration. Be positive and patient, even when they make it unpleasant. Even though it may seem like a failure in the short term, the goal is long-term bridge building.
It is unlikely our children will appreciate us disconnecting the Wi-Fi for their own good, but it will be worthwhile. Our hope is that they will see we care and want to support them. Push through any negative opposition you receive, and choose to believe your children are worth it. Do not lose sight that regardless of how your child or teen seems to respond to what you are doing, it is modeling persevering love to them. After all, isn’t this how Christ pursues us? When you do this, you become a conduit of God’s love, of hope past the momentary struggles or sadness, and light in a dark season.