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Thursday, February 13, 2020

9 Ways That Play Can Help Ease the Winter Blues!

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9 Ways That Play Can Help Ease the Winter Blues!

There's an old Mother Goose rhyme that goes, "It's raining, it's pouring, the old man is snoring." At my house in the winter, it can be more like, "It's raining, or it's snowing, and the girls are climbing the walls." The rhyme and rhythm are off a bit, but the feeling is real! Kids cooped up inside because of bad winter weather can quickly turn into squabbling, bored, unhappy children. But one of the many great things about playing is that you can do it just about anywhere, and another great thing is that playing can help alleviate the winter blues in your kids. You might even find that playing with the kids helps you feel better, too. There are nine different ways that play can help you to fight that cooped-up feeling this winter.


Release Dopamine and Norepinephrine

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Often, play involves movement, and the great thing about moving around is that it releases dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that relays messages between nerve cells, and it also plays a role in how we experience pleasure. It helps us focus, think, plan, and find things interesting, too, so upping the amount of dopamine in your kids' systems is an excellent way to stave off the winter blues. Norepinephrine helps people focus, retain memories, and regulate their emotions. Issues with norepinephrine levels can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. Fifteen minutes of activity a day can help control these vital neurotransmitters.


Correct Circadian Rhythms

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If you've ever noticed that your kids' sleep routines get thrown off in the winter, causing them to be tired and whiny in the morning, have trouble sleeping through the night, or refuse their regular naps, one possible culprit is the lack of sunshine. It's harder for kids to get enough sunlight in the winter, when there are fewer hours of sunlight overall and bad weather that keeps them indoors, and this can mess up their internal clocks. The solution is to get more sunshine into their lives. Open the curtains and blinds in the morning so they get sunlight as soon as possible. If at all possible, get them to play outside in the sunshine for at least 15 minutes within two hours of waking up. And take any chance to get them outside, even if it's just for a few minutes at a time. The exposure to daylight will help get their circadian rhythms back on track.


Laugh More

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When children play, they often laugh, too, and laughter is a necessary component for good mental health. Laughter makes you breathe deeply, releases endorphins, calms down your stress response, and lowers your blood pressure. There are even long-term benefits of laughing: People who laugh have less pain, overall better moods, and even better immune systems than those who don't. So let the silly games begin and let the laughter fly.


Get Vitamin D

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Vitamin D helps protect us from diabetes, heart disease, and bone issues, including osteoporosis. It's a nutrient that works with calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. Our bodies produce vitamin D, but they need sunlight to do it. Being outside riding their bikes, participating in a sport, or just walking lets kids get the sunlight they need to produce vitamin D and stay healthy.


Build Confidence

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Well-designed playground equipment allows children to use different parts of their bodies to try new challenges and experience new risks. But if you watch children on the playground, you'll see that often, if they're interested in trying something, they'll watch other children do it first. Then, they'll try the activity themselves. They might fail, but most kids will naturally try again and again until they master the skill. Learning from their mistakes and conquering fears helps children build their confidence.


Release Energy

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Kids have a lot of energy, but kids who are trapped inside without a healthy outlet can quickly use that energy to make themselves and everyone around them miserable. Play will allow them to get that energy out without getting into trouble. If the weather's not too bad, send them outside to run around and work off that energy; if it's dangerously cold, rainy, or icy, try some indoor exercise instead.


Release Emotions

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Little kids can have intense emotions, and play is an essential component in learning how to release those emotions and regulate their emotional lives. Researchers agree that children use unstructured play to figure out how to express feelings and learn to deal with things that scare them. Letting the kids turn a play structure into a pirate ship or a big cardboard box into a rocket allows them to work through their feelings in a totally healthy way.


Build Social Skills

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When we're feeling grumpy and out of sorts, sometimes, it can help to go out and have fun with your friends. Spending time with friends is good for you, and it's good for your kids, too. Playing with friends also provides chances for your kids to make new friends, and it lets them practice getting along with children in the group they don't like. Playgrounds typically develop social networks where children learn to build relationships and navigate issues with their peers.


Develop Cognitive Abilities

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Children's brain development depends on play: Researchers agree that free play actually impacts how a child's brain wires itself. Experts from Jean Piaget to Fred Rogers believed that play was crucial for children's development. Letting children play allows them to work on developing language skills, problem-solving, focus, and reasoning skills. It also allows children to flex their creative abilities. Staying cognitively engaged also helps battle depression and can help your little ones conquer their winter blues.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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