Your normally happy-go-lucky child has suddenly become sad and irritable. They are less interested in activities that they normally love, or they are suddenly sleeping hours longer than they ever have. There have not been any incidents in life that you know of that could cause this kind of behaviour. If this happens to your child during the fall and winter, perhaps they are suffering from a seasonal affective disorder.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that only occurs during a specific time of year. With SAD, children become depressed in the fall and winter, when the days shorten and it gets dark earlier in the day.

What Causes SAD?

SAD is a response to the seasonal changes in daylight, and doctors believe that it may have something to do with the processing of neurochemicals melatonin and serotonin. Serotonin, which regulates mood, decreases when there are fewer hours of daylight. Melatonin, which regulates sleep, increases with less daylight. The combination of these fluctuations has been associated with depression, and it is believed that they contribute to SAD.

What Are Some Symptoms I May See in My Child?

  • Your child may be sad or depressed
  • Your child may be more irritable than usual
  • Your child may have difficulty concentrating or experience changes in school performance
  • Your child may not take interest in things they normally enjoy
  • Your child may have changes in their appetite and may crave carbohydrates

Can I Prevent SAD?

There is not a certain way to avoid SAD, but reinforcing healthy habits may help. Have your child get out into the sunlight as much as possible, exercise every day, get the right amount of sleep and follow a healthy diet. These guidelines are important year-round, but reinforcing them during the fall and winter months may provide extra benefit against SAD.

How Is SAD Treated?

The first line of defence is to reinforce the healthy guidelines referenced above. Sunlight, exercise, sleep and diet may resolve mild cases and may make more difficult cases more manageable.

For more serious cases, consult your physician. He or she may prescribe antidepressants or other medications that will help manage your child’s condition.

Non-pharmaceutical options for treatment might include psychotherapy, which can help your child learn coping strategies to get them through the winter. Additionally, your doctor may suggest light therapy, where a device that mimics natural light is used to treat SAD by upping the amount of “daylight” in a child’s routine. While there has not been much research on light therapy in children, it has been found to be successful in treating adults with the disease.

How Can My Child’s School or Care Centre Help?

Your child’s school or care centre can help by maximising the amount of outdoor time children are provided, allowing for the weather. If your school or centre provides meals be sure that they are healthy and include plenty of fruits and vegetables. And be sure that your school or centre communicates well with home about any concerning behaviours that they may witness, especially signs of sadness or depression that seem out of the ordinary for your child.

InĀ Pymble childcare centres can help by providing loads of opportunities for outdoor play, led by educators who know your children and recognise the signs of seasonal affective disorder. When you trust your children to top-notch child care centres you will enjoy the peace of mind knowing that their every need, from physical care to mental well-being, is being looked after while they are away from you.

Providing the best environment for your children’s happiness and success is every parent’s concern. By watching for signs of seasonal affective disorder, and providing support and remedies as best you can for your children that are suffering, you can limit the impact of this debilitating disease.