Seasonal Mood Changes In Children: How To Help
Seasonal mood changes in children are a real concern for many of us. Here is what has helped my son.
It took me years to put the pieces together.
Some years, I blamed back to school stress – a new routine and learning expectations certainly cause some dysregulation.
Others, I didn’t notice at all until things were so bad, I didn’t remember what month it was anyway.
Then, my son’s doctor asked me for a detailed behavioral timeline, and I mean detailed. Month by month, even week by week if I could, I used old journals and past therapists evaluations to put together an overview of my child’s health and struggles for three solid years.
It was so obvious then, looking at the patterns, written out on paper.
My son struggles with seasonal mood changes.
Call it what you like – Seasonal Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Mood Disorder – this is a very real and very difficult reality to manage when your child is the one experiencing it.
For my son, it is essentially a part of his mood disorder.
Every year, right about when I randomly notice that it is getting dark a little earlier, I also begin to notice that my son is just a bit off. Nothing major – just a little less ability to cope, a little more irritability, a little less activity.
In past years, I have noticed and even reported it to his doctors. Every year, the responses were the same.
Well, let’s wait and see. It’s back to school after all.
He seems fine to me.
You seem a little hyper vigilant about this. Maybe you need some self care?
I would push my worries aside and assume I was just being a helicopter mom.
Then, every single year, by mid-October, our lives would be turned upside down. Sleep became impossible for my sweet boy, and the less sleep he got, the worse he felt during the day. The worse he felt during the day, the more irritability and out of control he became.
Twice, he even ended ended up hospitalized.
Seasonal Changes In Our Children’s Behavior And Mood
Last summer, I found a new doctor and explained my concerns about the seasonality of my son’s symptoms.
She not only listened and agreed, but began to think about treatment options specifically for the late September – November time frame. For the first time, we were able to navigate the fall with no major complications. It was still very, very difficult for my son, but so much better than the years prior.
This year, we are even more prepared and I am more hopeful than I have ever been.
Seasonal Mood Changes In Children: How To Help
Here is what has worked, both medically and behaviorally for my son. (Please know, I am just a mom. I am not a medical professional. I am sharing this simply because I know how hard it is to figure this out and how little support there is in doing so.)
I am militant in the late summer and early fall about my son’s sleep routines and patterns. We don’t do anything that would take him out of the house and delay his bedtime. He goes to bed at exactly the same time in exactly the same way, every single night without exception. (Like I said, militant.)
If he starts to struggle with sleep, even with our careful routine – and he does, every year right around mid-September – his doctor prescribes a sleep aid to temporarily get us through the season.
In addition to our usual exercise and play, I have added one additional fun activity each week that increases his activity level. For example, this year, in addition to rock climbing weekly, he is taking boxing lessons twice a week.
I used to try to increase his daily activity through walking the dog or playing outside, but found he would resist much more than if we had a planned, dedicated activity a few times a week.
Although I add an activity based requirement, I have learned that this season is not the time to introduce new learning or require my son to attend any social gatherings that are already difficult for him in the best circumstances. I am careful with our family schedule and only do the basics for the six weeks I know to be the most difficult for him.
As his primary caregiver, I have also cleared my calendar of most requirements on me for the month of October and November. In the past, I have been a little too hopeful. Too many times I have had to cancel arrangements at the last minute or miss deadlines, simply because it was mid-October. Now, I just plan to do less.
Medication Adjustments Proactively
Having a doctor who believes this is real and responds accordingly has been a lifesaver. This year, my son’s doctor slightly increased his medication proactively, as soon as the mood instability began. It has seriously changed the month of September in our home and for the first time, we are heading into October without feeling like the world is crashing down around us.
(Having a doctor who is willing to believe that seasonal changes are real for your child and treat accordingly is invaluable. It is also, I know, not easy to find.)
This is always a difficult time of year in our home.
Although my son is still struggling a bit, and probably always will as the days of summer become fall, this year is the best he’s been. Although he still is experiencing increasingly erratic behavior and irritability, he is able to engage in his days and keep his usual routines. The difference is huge.
So far so good. Now, we wait and stick to the plan.
We hope that spring comes early.
For more information and support:
Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.