The year has flown by and the holidays are fast approaching. You may be newly single following a divorce or approaching the holidays as a single Dad who has suffered through the divorce process some time ago. Regardless of when your divorce occurred, time is afoot to make a pledge to yourself to create a happy holiday after divorce.
You Are In Control of Your Thoughts and Actions
There is no doubt about it – your life has changed following the divorce. You may have chosen to become more outgoing, more adventurous and more socially connected. Or, you may have chosen to spend more time alone, to concentrate on your thoughts and rebuild your life, from the inside out. But keep in mind. There is a strong correlation to your thoughts and your emotions. People who are more outgoing, positive and socially engaged and generally happier and healthier as individuals. These types of people are more likely to be positive thinkers, even through the worst of times and these people tend to experience emotions that are more positive (i.e. joy, contentment, peace, calm, etc.). Likewise, people who are more reclusive and entertain more negative thought processes often find themselves burdened with negative emotions (i.e. sadness, anger, jealousy, loneliness, etc.).
As the holiday season draws near, be more mindful of your thought patterns and resulting mood. If you find you are more in tune with how you are feeling emotionally, start there. You can then trace back to the associated thinking patterns. Challenge irrational, distorted thoughts and change negative thinking to uplift your mood.
Avoid making decisions when in the throes of negativity (thought and mood). Your opportunity to do things differently, and take control of your happy holidays diminishes when blinded by the cloud of negativity. Taking a pause and allowing a moment to thoughtfully consider the options can make all the difference between resolving to be miserable or joyful.
Embrace the Opportunity to Do The Holidays After Divorce Differently
While married, you and your partner had to make decisions about how the holiday would be done differently from when you were single. Whose house and when. Which invites to politely decline. How to share the gift of your presence across multiple families.
Who. What. When. Where. Why. How.
When those decisions were made, you may not have been overly happy, and it certainly took some getting used to, for both of you. The same holds true for holidays after divorce. You now have an opportunity to do the holiday differently…again…and with fewer details (i.e., people) to factor into the mix.
If you have children and know that you will be splitting time with their mother, determine how you will go about making your time with them extra special and amazing (see below for starting new traditions). Also, consider that the celebration doesn’t have to occur any certain day. Some families have opted to have a full-on Christmas celebration at Thanksgiving, and have admitted that while it felt strange at first, the tradition grew on them and they’ve come to enjoy their “Thanksgiving Christmas” even more than Christmas on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The trick is to get your mind wrapped around the idea and fully embracing it so that the plan can take off. Toss aside all the ideas of how things ‘should be’ for a holiday.
If children aren’t part of your story, immerse yourself in festivities with friends and family. Assess what you might need to do for yourself, in the name of self-care, and take advantage of holiday time away from work to engage in these things. Maybe a trip with your buddies to the mountains, complete with a cabin and snowboarding is in order. Or if a tropical destination is more your style, get the trip booked!
The bottom line is there is no one way to make a holiday fabulous and worthwhile, particularly holidays after divorce. The possibilities are endless. Meditate on what will make you happy and go for it! Even if it means staying in, reading a book and having a hotdog for dinner (provided you aren’t secretly lonely and miserable) is an option. Society may try to convince you there are rules about what should and should not be done but the truth is you’ve earned your adult status.
Create Holiday Traditions with Your Kids
Most everyone can recall (most of the time with fondness) the holiday traditions from when they were young. Maybe you had hoped to carry some of your childhood traditions forward or had ideas of traditions you would have liked to have started once you married and had children of your own. Whether or not you had the opportunity to begin these traditions in your previous married life, holidays after divorce afford you the opportunity to plug in your ideas and carry them forward for years to come.
Unsure where to begin with holiday activities? Consider some of the following ideas:
- Tree Decorating: whether you seek out and cut down your very own fresh holiday tree, or opt for the pre-lit artificial variety, tree decorating, start to finish, can become a memorable activity done with your children. Allowing your kids to help gives them the opportunity to rediscover and enjoy the ornaments and decor they had long forgotten from the year prior. Tree decorating can morph into another project if you decide to engage the kids in a decor creation activity like stringing popcorn with cranberries as tree decorating garland!
- Decorating Gingerbread Houses: A pre-assembled house of graham crackers along with a table full of sugar-coated treats and frosting turns an ordinary afternoon into a marathon of creative bliss. Their work will proudly display until, over time, the candies have been picked away and consumed (hint: take pictures quickly! The decorated houses may not last long!). This tutorial will get you started on the graham cracker house build (the part of the project the kiddos may not have the patience to endure).
- Holiday Books, Movies, Cartoons and Music Countdown: The holidays bring with them books, movies, cartoons, and music treasured by all generations. Consider a schedule to introduce your children to some of your favorites from your childhood as well as squeezing in the latest and greatest in holiday entertainment. A fun countdown to Christmas (or Hanukkah, or whatever celebration is in store) can occur as movies, books, videos with cartoons, and music are wrapped up, numbered and set under the tree. Each passing day a new surprise awaits unwrapping and family fun!
- Giving Back: While need exists all through the year, there is never a more obvious time of year to give back to those less fortunate than the holidays. The timing is also never better to teach your children about giving back. Examine your options to engage in a holiday charity outreach event with your children. There are shelter meals to be made and served, opportunities to collect (sort and hand out) items for a food drive, and families with children in need of being ‘adopted’ through a secret Santa or gift giving tree program. Your generosity can also stretch over-seas with the Operation Christmas Child project.
Still in need of holiday tradition ideas? A quick internet search yields seemingly endless results and options to consider for all age groups.
Holidays after divorce, while different and something to adjust to, don’t have to be yet another reason to feel miserable. Resolve to change (and control) your thinking on the matter and set out to have it your way this holiday season. Let go of the ideas of how things are ‘supposed to’ be and avoid getting sucked into the storybook holiday scenarios. Treat this holiday after divorce like a blank canvas with endless opportunity to color it any way you choose!
(c) Can Stock Photo / VadimGuzhva
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You’ve joined forces and tied the knot, in the name of holy matrimony. And now, baby makes three (or four or five). Marriage brings with it challenges of its own; adding a baby to the mix can further disrupt harmonious functioning. Postpartum depression and divorce are linked and postpartum depression may be to blame. Postpartum depression is no longer reserved solely for women; research suggests men too can struggle with postpartum depression all their own.
Known also as paternal postnatal depression, studies as recent at 2010 suggest that as many as one in ten men struggle with depression following the welcome of a new child into their lives. Truth is, the rates may be much higher as countless men struggle without seeking professional support. While depression itself may not be the culprit for trouble in a relationship or for divorce for that matter, the ripple effect of resulting behaviors triggered by depressive symptoms can place strains on a relationship and divorce may seem the only option.
Postpartum Depression and Divorce
Symptoms of postpartum depression mirror those of major depressive disorder. The onset of the symptoms, dubbing the name ‘postpartum depression’ follow the addition of a child (through birth, adoption or fostering) to the family dynamic. The most common symptoms of depression, per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition, include:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and/or guilt; most days, for nearly the entire day
- Changes in sleep patterns (difficulty sleeping or desire to sleep all the time)
- Extreme fatigue, and loss of energy
- Difficulty concentrating and/or indecisiveness
- Restlessness and/or irritability
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Changes in eating habits that result in either weight loss or gain
- Recurrent thoughts of death
Professionals working closely with men who struggle with depression – whether postnatal or not – identify some symptoms that seem to be unique to men that include:
- Feelings of anger, frustration and irritability that may include conflict with others (violent or non-violent)
- Isolating from family and friends
- Tendency to work longer hours
- Increased use of substances (alcohol and/or other drugs)
- Risk-taking and impulsive behavior
Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression
You might be wondering what may put you at higher risk for struggles with postpartum depression and divorce. The following variables are all contributors:
- A previous personal history of depression: If depression is something you’ve struggled with previously, for whatever reason, even if you conquered that mountain and moved on, you are at higher risk of depressive symptoms returning. Additionally, a family history of depression may also increase your risk of developing depression yourself.
- Strained relationships: Tension within relationships, including with your partner, parents, in-laws, and friends set the stage for depressive symptoms to occur. Everyone has a unique opinion on how to raise children, right? Inability to agree with your partner or filter through the ‘suggestions’ from friends and family (yours or hers) can create insurmountable tension within your marriage. Add to it, strained relationships with friends and family can lead to further isolation and limited access to much needed support.
- Extreme fatigue due to lack of sleep: Babies sleep a lot. In theory, sleep shouldn’t be hard to come by with baby snoozing 16-20 hours per day. The trouble is babies don’t always sleep for long durations of time, for a variety of reasons. So, when baby is awake often through the night and you struggle to return to sleep yourself, or there are other variables keeping you awake (i.e. stress), sleep can become extremely hard to come by. An extremely fatigued adult has less capacity to tolerate or deal with the curveballs of life productively which can further strain relationships and now a vicious cycle has begun.
- Lack of support: Humans were created as social beings, and support from friends and family is essential. Particularly during significant life changes like adding a child into your mix. Whether the support is hands on (giving you and your partner a much needed break), or emotional (allowing you an opportunity to vent, their normalizing your experience and re-assuring you to the best of their ability that you CAN do this, etc.).
Trying to take on too much yourself and declining invitations for help, or being isolated creates an environment in which depression can thrive.
- Limited economic resources: We hear all the time that “money isn’t everything”. While we know that to be true, it’s also reasonable to admit that having money <versus not> sure makes things easier. If you were strapped financially prior to your child being born, or if the strain hit with the additional expenses that came alongside baby, economic challenges can place an incredible burden on a marriage. Adjusting to parenting a new baby brings with it challenges enough. The additional stress of wondering how the mortgage will be paid, if you’ll be able to scrape together enough to keep the lights and heat on, or how food will land on the table (and diapers on that sweet babe’s bottom) can – and in many cases WILL – contribute heavily to the onset of depression.
- Hormonal changes: That’s right fellas. Hormonal changes happen for you during and after your partner’s pregnancy, too! Not only do they change but they fluctuate, which, you might remember is one of the reasons puberty is so darn hard for teens (and perhaps even harder on their parents). During pregnancy estradiol (hormone found in higher levels in females) increases, and testosterone (hormone found in higher levels in men) decreases for males. Just before birth testosterone fluctuates, and increases, but shortly after birth drops once again. Add to it the fluctuation of the stress hormone cortisol (which drops during pregnancy, rises just before birth, and drops again after birth…only to rise again as stress and tensions grow).
Fluctuating hormones (for both partners) before, during and after birth creates a recipe for depression.
- Non-traditional family structure: parenting alongside your partner is hard enough, but when the family structure resembles something less than traditional, the risk is higher for additional stress, leading to depression. Co-parenting first thing out the gate, without any opportunity to first learn together under the same roof can lead to lots of confusion and disagreement about common goals for parenting the new little one. Plus, bonding opportunity is limited when time is shared between two parents living in separate residences (with dad likely taking more back-seat time to mom as a primary caregiver, at least initially). Add to all of it that living separately means limited resource to share the burden with one parenting having to shoulder it all until baby spends time with the other parent.
All these risk factors work in tandem to increase risk of postpartum depression and divorce. While all factors set a person at higher risk, everyone is uniquely designed with different thresholds for tolerating and navigating these factors. It’s also important to know that risk factors don’t necessarily mean postpartum depression will develop. Rather, it’s just wise to be aware of the factors that may exist and to act when/if a problem is suspected.
Seeking Help for Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is not forever, nor does it have to be a contributor to a failed marriage. Depression is easily treatable via several avenues:
- Talk therapy: talk therapy can help an individual verbally process through the events and associated thoughts and feelings, as well as help an individual learn invaluable healthy coping skills. A professional can also make further recommendations for support and point you in the right direction to access services s/he doesn’t provide.
- Medications: antidepressants are an option, most often in conjunction with talk therapy, for helping an individual get in front of the depression that is wreaking havoc on their life. Get the skinny on medications for treating depression prior to a visit with your doctor with this article published by the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Natural Remedies: if medications aren’t really your thing and you’re not sure how you feel about talk therapy, there are a host of natural remedies in existence that are proven to aid in elevating mood. A healthy diet, exercise and adequate sleep are just for starters. Read more on WebMD for additional natural remedy options.
- Crisis Resources: if you or someone you know is a risk to themselves or others due to a mental health condition, do not hesitate to outreach to either local or national crisis resources for immediate support. The national suicide prevention hotline can be accessed by dialing 1-800-273-8255, or you can visit them on the web for additional information.
Get your marriage back on track after baby makes three (or four or five) with an understanding of postpartum depression risk factors, symptoms and options for support. For both you and your partner. As the saying goes “this too shall pass” and there are indeed happier days ahead.
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We’ve all pondered the question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”. A similar question exists in the world of mental health: “is the body sick because the mind is distraught, or is the mind distraught due to sickness of the body?” Regardless the answer, there are two things we know to be true: first, an understanding that a body and mind connection exists. Second, it is this connection that helps explain why divorce can be making you sick – physically and mentally.
A Quick Education on Stress
Divorce can trigger a multitude of emotions. Anger, sadness, and loneliness, just to name a few. The emotional response differs depending on the individual, but one thing seems to remain consistent for all: the event is stressful. In fact, stress might be the word most commonly used to succinctly summarize how an individual going through a divorce is feeling.
While stress is most certainly a contributor to health issues, and we often think of “stress” as solely a negative, it’s important to understand that not all stress is created equal. Some stress is actually good for us. That’s right; there is a kind of stress that is short lived and serves to motivate and propel us through various situations. It even has a name: eustress. There are not lasting, detrimental physical or psychological effects of eustress.
Harmful stress, known simply as “stress” (hence the negative association with the term), is the kind of stress that wreaks havoc on our body and mind. Stress that leaves the body in a heightened state of arousal over a period of time eventually leads to issues of the body and mind.
Whether an event is triggering good or harmful stress is dependent upon the individual as the physiological reaction in the body is all the same. This physiological response is known as “fight or flight” and is the work of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. It is responsible for elements of bodily functioning, which occur automatically and are essential for life (i.e., heart rate and respiratory rate, pupillary dilation, sexual arousal, etc.).
Before you totally check out with all this technical jargon, let’s talk in metaphoric terms.
The sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight or flight response (adrenaline pumping, increased heart, and breathing, dilated pupils). It’s like pressing on the accelerator in a car. The parasympathetic nervous system works to return the body to a normal, resting state of functioning. In our car analogy, the parasympathetic nervous system is the breaks. When a car is moving through traffic with a steady flow of acceleration and braking, all is well. This would be eustress. But if that same car has an accelerator that’s stuck or breaks that don’t work, it speeds through traffic in a way that is dangerous and unlikely to end well. Just like stress. A body in a heightened state of arousal for a period of time will eventually crash.
Body and Mind Connection: Physical & Mental Illness Explained
There is a powerful connection between the body and mind that contributes to both illness and supports health and healing.
Prolonged stress and cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body literally weakens the immune system. A weakened immune system leaves an individual susceptible to illness. Individuals may find themselves sick more often, and for longer periods of time, with common illnesses such as colds, sinus infections, and the flu. They are also at higher risk of more serious and chronic problems like heart disease and stroke.
Conversely, illness which begins without stress as the main contributor can have a powerful impact on mental health as well. Prolonged struggles with common illnesses (i.e., the cold that’s been hanging on for over a month, leaving a person sick and tired of being sick and tired) or diagnoses of more serious conditions trigger a stress response. Depression, anxiety and maybe even panic can result from these scenarios.
Is an individual sick because they haven’t been caring for their mental health, or are they struggling with their mental health because of a physical condition? As you can see, it’s a double-edged sword!
Caring for The Body and Mind
Rather than wasting precious time and energy debating which came first (physical vs. mental), let’s simply accept that the two are connected and strive to care for both.
Did you know that a pessimistic or optimistic attitude can affect ability to cope? People who view events through a pessimistic lens tend to explain them as global and stable. For example, “I’m going through a difficult divorce. ALL women are horrible. My life is ruined FOREVER.”. Conversely, those who view events through an optimistic lens tend to explain the same event as temporary and specific. For example, “I’m going through a divorce. It’s a horrible situation, but not all women are horrible. My whole life is not ruined, rather now I get the opportunity to figure out my new normal.”
Pessimism and optimism are linked to perceived control. Perceiving a degree of control exists leads to taking action. Perceiving no control can result in sitting back and allowing things to happen without being an influencer in the situation.
Pessimism and optimism are traits of personality and personality are very difficult to change. Very difficult doesn’t equal impossible, though. If you identify as being more pessimistic generally, or even just about the divorce, take comfort in knowing that optimism can be learned. To understand more about learned optimism, and how to achieve that end, visit the article Learned Optimism: The Glass Half Full and other resources from Positive Psychology Program.
A healthy lifestyle is equally important in caring for the body and mind connection. What we eat and drink, how much sleep we get each night, and how much physical activity is clocked in a day all make a difference in how well the body and mind function. A diet low in nutritional value, getting very little sleep and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to a whole host of physical (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, etc.) and mental (depression, anxiety, etc.) issues. Equip your body and mind to handle even the most stressful of circumstances by paying attention to diet, exercise and rest.
Finding Social Support
Finally, social connections also support body and mind wellness. Companionship creates opportunity for honest feedback, emotional support, and in some cases material assistance. It also has potential to encourage health-enhancing behaviors, as discussed above. Social connection extends itself beyond friends and family as well. There is increasing evidence to support pets as a strong source of social support. If you’re curious about some details of this kind of research and wondering what sort of specific benefits pets may provide, this quick read by Rick Nauert, Ph.D. sheds additional light on the subject: Pets Provide Emotional, Social Support to Owners.
Can divorce be making you sick? Absolutely! Might it be the reason you just can’t seem to get over that nagging cold? Yep! Keep in mind this body and mind connection and strive to care for both. And if you just can’t seem to get back on track with wellness on your own, seek help from a professional. It might be just the ticket to clearing and hurdle and achieving health so that you can get back to living a fulfilling life.
(c) Can Stock Photo / Elnur
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You’ve probably noticed (and unless you are completely detached from anything in life, you most certainly have) that the holiday stress season is upon us. Stores are filling with the holiday essentials and more, commercials are airing advertising holiday shows, movies, and gift-giving ideas, and people are already chattering about pending holiday plans. It’s a wonderful and stressful time of year! Stay ahead of holiday stress with these seven hacks.
Whether you are naturally a lover of all things holiday or have struggled with a case of the Scrooge’s in the past, the first holiday season post-divorce is a changed game. Particularly if there are children involved. Like learning to navigate any other uncharted territory, awareness of what you are likely to be facing and pre-planning can help make all the difference between a joyous time versus a “please just fast forward to 2019 while I pull the covers over my head” attitude.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season brings with it stress. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Some stress is healthy and motivating. It’s the push we need to feel energized to engage in activities we want to do and keeps us going through a busy and exciting time. But stress can also be negative and have detrimental effects on our physical and emotional well-being.
Negative stress is linked to sleep difficulties (difficulty falling or staying asleep), extreme fatigue, stomach issues, irritability, forgetfulness, and difficulty problem-solving. Prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure and even trigger panic attacks. People feeling the effects of negative, prolonged stress are at higher risk for substance (or other addictive) issues and mental health problems.
If you feel yourself wanting to reach for the fast-forward button already, while simultaneously pulling the covers over your head, know that you are not alone and there are ways to ensure holiday stress doesn’t get the best of you.
Combating Holiday Stress: Social Settings
Set Boundaries with Social Gathering Invites:
Determine your priorities and what you can realistically handle in terms of time. There is never a busier time of year than the holiday season for social gatherings. You might even find yourself with more invitations for social gatherings now that you are flying solo. The family will surely be getting together, friends (probably from several different social circles) will be looking to host their own holiday bash, and the after-hours office holiday party will all be competing for your time and attention. If you have children, the invites for plays and concerts hosted by the school and church as well as gatherings with their friends will start flowing in as well.
Determining what you can handle in terms of time on the front end will help in knowing immediately which gatherings you can gladly RSVP “yes” and which you can politely decline. Have in mind an idea of how many days or evenings a week you want to be engaged in social activity, and which days or evenings are the best fit for you and your family. You may determine that Friday and Saturday evenings are best and that requests for Sundays or a certain evening of the work week need thoughtful consideration (based on priorities) before accepting the invitation.
Equally important is knowing your priorities. For example, if you have children you are likely to determine that, first and foremost, attending their holiday concert at school is priority one. If you’re not all the crazy about the crew you interact with daily at work, you might decide to forego the office holiday gathering (or determine a plan to “make an appearance” for a shortened period).
Whatever you decide, give yourself permission to politely decline invites for social engagements that simply don’t fit with your priorities and time. It is better to fully commit to fewer gatherings, where you can be present and enjoy yourself than it is to over-extend and feel miserable and tired at every gathering you received, and accepted an invitation.
Mentally Prepare for Social Gatherings:
If you are newly separated or divorced, those with whom you haven’t yet had contact (but who are aware of your circumstance) are going to be looking to you for cues on interaction. Some will follow these cues flawlessly while others will be more awkward, but you can certainly be <mostly> in control of the interaction. Decide ahead of time how you might respond to questions (direct or subtle). If you are willing to share information, go into the social gathering knowing what and how much you have a willingness to share. Also, have top of mind “subject changers” so when you’ve said all you are willing to say on the topic you can steer the conversation in another direction. You also are well within your right to comment very briefly and clearly communicate your preference not to continue discussion on the matter (“yes, it’s been difficult, and I prefer not to talk about it. Thank you for your concern and for keeping me in your thoughts” ….insert subject changer).
Social Gatherings and Gift Exchanges:
The holidays don’t have to be about buying extravagant gifts for everyone you know. Determine and to stick to your budget with gift buying. This goes for gift buying for your children as well. Consider DIY projects that are cost-effective, and purchasing experiences that you might be footing the bill for in the future anyway. For example, if you have children consider passes to a movie, children’s museum, water park, or other activity they might enjoy getting more bang for your buck. There is the thrill of opening a gift with a stuffed giraffe and passes to the zoo in the gift opening moment, followed by opportunity for an outing that you were probably going to pay for down the road anyway.
Check out this resource for inexpensive gift ideas for adults in your life, and these inexpensive gift ideas for kids.
If there are gift exchanges at other social gatherings that are optional (i.e., the office holiday party, or a white elephant exchange at a friends’ holiday bash), consider opting out if it just doesn’t fit your budget.
Combating Holiday Stress: Personal Wellness
Take Time for You:
Make time to participate in activities that you find to be relaxing and rejuvenating and resist the temptation to feel guilty about needing a holiday obligation break. These essential breaks will aid in your ability to better enjoy the holiday activities you have committed to and channel the holiday stress into being positive.
Even when you are feeling worn out and unmotivated, pencil in some physical activity. Doing so will lower adrenaline and cortisol (i.e., stress hormones) within the body and this is the absolute best way to fight negative effects of stress. You don’t need to log half an hour on the treadmill or train for a triathlon. Scheduling a tennis match with a friend, shooting hoops, or a brisk walk in the cooler weather can be just what your body needs to clear out excess stress hormone and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Practice Relaxation Skills:
Relaxation activities force us to slow down and help our bodies to regroup. Consider deep breathing exercises, turn on relaxing music, practice meditation, or go for a quiet drive after the sun goes down. Maybe even consider scheduling a massage. Not sure where to start? This short relaxation video will walk you through five minutes of relaxation.
Get Adequate Rest:
During times of high stress (whether positive or negative) it’s quite likely that our bodies will require more rest than is our norm. Our bodies will also let us know when this is the case, so we must be careful to listen. When you are feeling physically or mentally worn out, don’t strive to complete just a couple more tasks. Instead, call it a day and tuck in; your body will thank you for doing so.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be characterized by holiday stress, even when you have experienced significant life changes. Everyone gets an opportunity to decide, and be in control of, how they are going to approach this busy time of year. Know your priorities, set boundaries (don’t feel guilty about doing so), and don’t forget to care for yourself.
(c) Can Stock Photo / vitalytitov
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Leaves have changed colors, dried up and fallen to the ground; cold weather is upon us. Gone are the leisurely days spent outside playing in the heat of the day, brought on by blazing sunshine. Keeping kids entertained through the cold weather season can be a challenge. Consider some of the suggestions below for winter activities, ranging from free to cost involved, to keep your kids busy and happy when cold weather takes outdoor activities mostly off the table.
Free or Low-Cost Winter Activities
Schedule Play Dates
Take the pressure off yourself to entertain your little one directly and schedule a playdate for your child to connect with a friend (or group of friends). Offer to rotate ‘supervision’ of the play date so that you occasionally get a couple of hours to yourself while providing this same luxury to the friends’ parent(s) on alternate dates.
Kids often get tired of playing with the same old thing. However, have you ever noticed that if you tuck something away (maybe with the intention of donating as your child no longer plays with it) and it’s out of sight and out of mind for several weeks before your kiddo stumbles upon it again, s/he will suddenly show renewed interest? Happens all the time! Consider splitting up your kids’ toys into different boxes that you rotate each week or two. Your kids will feel like they have new toys to play with regularly, without your having to purchase new toys, and their interest will be captured!
Outdoor Snow and Cold Weather Activities
Should a day come when the sun is out, the temps are mild, and there is snow on the ground, take a page out of your childhood book of fun and engage the kids in an outdoor winter activity involving snow. Making snow angels, building snowmen and snow forts, and having a friendly snowball fight are all options involving the white stuff. Mixing up some “snow paint” is a fun, and colorful, option for outdoor play (simply mix water and several drops of food coloring in spray bottles and turn the kids loose). Sledding is sure to exert a LOT of energy and capture attention for hours at a time as well.
Play activities which engage the senses (touch, sight, taste, smell, and sound) are not only fun for young children, but vital in promoting sensory integration. When information is taken in through one or more of the senses, the mind must integrate and process the information into something meaningful (and generate an appropriate outward response). Learning to do this effectively is done through sensory play and should be started with children at the earliest possible age.
This isn’t to say that sensory play is only for very young children, children of all ages enjoy these activities! Sensory play provides an opportunity to expand language, practice fine motor skills, and can be calming for the child (even though the potential for a great mess is present. If the idea of messy play deters you from considering this option, read this article on 10 Tips to Keep Messy Activities Clean). If you’re wondering what types of activities fall into the “sensory play” category, here are a few quick suggestions: finger painting, play dough, sand box activities, making mud pies, a small trampoline with a surrounding net and filled with balloons is a short list.
There are fabulous resources online for sensory play activity ideas so don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel. Hands On As We Grow is one such resource. What is particularly fabulous about this website is that one can select the age of your child and get ideas that are tried and true, age-appropriate activities.
Low to Moderate Cost Winter Activities
Join a Gym That Offers Childcare
Many gyms have a childcare option that allows parents to take a breather of their own while the kiddos are entertained by loving and nurturing caregivers. The added bonus? Playtime with other kids roughly your child’s age which provides not only entertainment but also fosters vital social skills.
Find an Indoor Pool Swimming doesn’t have to be limited to summertime fun. Locate an indoor pool with the option for open swim and swim lessons. Your little ones will love splashing the morning (or afternoon, or evening) away and may even return home tired enough for a nice, long nap.
Sign Up for Extracurricular Activities
Tap into programs that support interests of your child. Organized sports, dance, and gymnastics are an obvious choice. But consider music, drama, art and other programs as well that will exercise your child’s mind and keep their hands busy for a time or two each week.
An afternoon matinee at a theatre showing movies that haven’t been recently released can provide a more cost-effective option for theatre experience if you need to get the little ones out of the house. Another option, even more cost-effective, is creating a cinematic experience right in your own home. Create movie ticket stubs, pop some popcorn (with help from the kids), turn down the lights and crank up the volume. Your living room can become a personal theatre with a movie of your choice via DVD, Netflix, or On-Demand.
Build a Ball Pit A popular feature at many indoor entertainment places (think: Chuck E Cheese) an indoor ball pit can provide hours of fun. These can be easily made at home. Some suggestions include an empty kid-size swimming pool or a pack and play (pending age of your child), filled with plastic balls that are easily purchased online and shipped directly to your house! A quick internet search will also yield options for pre-made ball pits that can be easily set up, taken down, and stored conveniently. Feeling the need for more DIY ball pit inspiration? Check out the creativity of others who have embarked on this journey via Pinterest: DIY Ball Pit.
Research indoor ice and roller skating options in your area. An out of the ordinary activity that will provide an opportunity for exercise and challenge skills with balance. Not sure you can teach skating skills? Check on opportunities for a coach to teach your little one the basics.
Indoor Trampoline Centers
Same as with indoor skating, indoor trampoline centers are popping up all over the place, and you’ve probably never met a kid who didn’t like to jump and bounce! Another out of the ordinary activity that offers an opportunity for exercise challenges skills with balance and coordination and probably results in a nice long nap afterward (for you too, dad!).
Children’s Museum Does your area have a Children’s Museum? Is there one nearby that can be accessed via day-trip? Exhibits at children’s museums give kids, from infants to pre-teens, the chance to explore, imagine, investigate and create. Activities are hands-on and interactive. Not only fun but expanding the mind!
Keeping things new and fun during cold weather months can certainly be a challenge. When kids split time between parents, dads can often feel added pressure to make the time spent with his kids exciting. Feeling pressure to make the very most of your quality time with the kids can leave one feeling stressed and zap the fun right out of an otherwise exciting opportunity.
Rest assured that a little creativity and imagination can go a long way for winter activities and not every visit needs to be filled with expensive outings. As your budget allows, more expensive outings can be added to the agenda. In between those times, consider hands-on fun activities that can be done at home for little to no cost. Plan ahead. Stock up on essential materials and relish in the opportunity to come alongside your child as he or she learns and grows, all the while having a total blast with dad!
(c) Can Stock Photo / dolgachov
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