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Dear Bundoo: Why is my daughter depressed this winter?

This week, one family that’s full of snow may also be full of sorrow. Why is this little girl depressed? See what our doctor says in this week’s Dear Bundoo.

Dear Bundoo, 

I live just outside Boston, and I’m worried that my 3-year-old daughter has seasonal affective disorder. She’s usually a really happy, bubbly girl, but since we’ve been getting all this snow and she’s stuck inside all the time, she seems to be depressed all the time. Is it possible it’s the weather affecting her mood? Is there anything I can do to perk her back up?

—Snowed In

Dear Snowed In,

You are describing the qualities of something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which occurs in children and adults alike, often in the winter months. SAD is a type of clinical depression that typically occurs in the winter months in northern latitudes. In fact, the farther you live from the equator, the higher your likelihood of SAD. While SAD is most widely understood in adults, the medical community does acknowledge that it can exist in children. Long hours indoors coupled with short days can lead to symptoms of fatigue, lack of focus, sadness, irritability, and changes in food cravings. People with SAD often crave simple carbohydrates, like comfort foods, which can then lead to further symptoms of feeling run down and tired. Because your child is so young, I would recommend getting her evaluated by your pediatrician who can help you determine if this is truly SAD.

In the meantime, you can try to beat those winter blues by doing a few things. First, make sure that your little one is getting at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. A trip outside is very important, but if you are limited by the snow, try an indoor play gym or an hour or two running around the mall each day to help her calm a bored body. Set up an obstacle course in your house or apartment or just have a good old-fashioned dance party to start the day. Children need to be in motion! Second, get her outside and into the light! We are not sure what causes SAD, but the theory is that darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while inhibiting the production of serotonin, the happy hormone. Boosting her exposure to the light will help stimulate serotonin.

Finally, make sure she is eating a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and whole grains and avoiding the simple carbohydrates (e.g. bagels, bread, pasta) that children sometimes steer toward.

Answered by Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Bundoo Pediatrician

 

Dear Bundoo is where we answer your parenting and relationship questions anonymously. If you have a question you’d like to see answered, drop us a line at dearbundoo@bundoo.com—or you can always stop by Ask Bundoo to have your question answered privately by one of our doctors or childcare experts. In the meantime, stop by every Tuesday to check out what our experts are answering.

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About Jon VanZile, Bundoo Content Director

Jon VanZile is the Content Director at Bundoo and edits the weekly Dear Bundoo column.

Comments

  1. I think sometimes children who are cooped up during the cold winter months just get bored! Try to vary the routine from day to day. Also while you may have to get creative when stuck indoors on a snowy day, keep them moving, even if it is turning on the music for 10 minutes and having a dance party! Of course, if your child is showing signs of depression such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or a loss of interest in usual favorite activities, you should seek the guidance of a professional.

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