Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

Cabin Fever Survival Guide: How to Reduce Stress, Boost Your Mood, and Get Out of Your Grumpiness Rut

How to reduce stress, boost your mood, and ward off cabin fever.

Forget April. January is the cruelest month when you’re a parent. The holidays are but a distant memory, the kids are getting restless, and spring feels impossibly far away. So how do you get inspired to make the effort to connect with your kids when you’re experiencing an almost magnetic pull toward the closest couch?

Get outdoors as much as possible

Feeling trapped between the same four walls can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in the worst kind of rut. And it means you’re missing out on the psychological boost that comes from being active outdoors. So bundle up and find ways to squeeze in bits of active outdoor fun.  Plan a block party with your neighbours. (Who says block parties can only happen on a warm summer night?) Toss a Frisbee around in the snow. Bundle up for an hour or two of skating or sledding. Or make pictures in the snow (either by stamping out pictures with your boots or by squirting the snow with a spray bottle containing cold water and a few drops of food colouring). 

Not sure that you'll be able to sell your screen-obsessed kid on the joys of spending time outdoors? Head outdoors with them. Not only do kids like to see parents walking the talk of getting off the couch: they relish the opportunity to have our undivided attention, something that tends to happen whenever we head outside to play. (I mean it’s pretty hard to multitask—to plug away at balancing your checkbook, for example—when you’re busy building a snowman with your kid!)

Change locations

Weather too grim to make any kind of outdoor activity tolerable, let alone fun? Simply focus on changing (indoor) locations instead. Join forces with some other families on your block (hey, they're dealing with the very same challenges, too!) by organizing a board games night or planning some other sort of fun activity like a progressive dinner (where you have soup/salad at one family's house, the main course at another family's house, and coffee/dessert at a third family's house).

Of course, if you have a large number of very young children (and the thought of getting them in and out of their snowsuits that many times would leave you feeling exhausted before you ever left home!) or if you a child who would find it hard to cope with this kind of shake-up of your family's usual routine, you might find it works best to simply stay put and focus on having fun on your own home turf. (That link will take you to an idea-packed blog post by Jenna Morton of Pickle Planet Moncton, the parent I interviewed for this related radio story.)

Commit to hitting the reset button if you're stuck in a grumpiness rut

Feeling like you're just treading water while you await the arrival of spring? You'll find it easier to power through if you remind yourself that this time of year is really hard for them, just as it’s really hard for you. Then resolve to find some ways to get through the next few weeks together.

Start out by accepting the fact that you have a huge role to play in setting the tone for the next few weeks. If you’re in a perpetual funk, your kids will pick up on your mood—and their anxiety about why you’re being grumpy or moody will make them act up even more. So resolve to hit the reset button and to reach out for support from other people (your best friend, your next door neighbor, your family doctor) if you feel like you’re stuck in a grumpiness rut. 

Finally, clear the deck of all the non-essential items on your to do list so that you can make more room for fun, rest, and relaxation. Fun doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen and that starts by recognizing it for what it is (a necessity, not a frill) and understanding that you have the power to make fun happen for yourself and your kids.

Here’s to making the most of that power. 

Related:

Taming the Morning Monster: How to Make Mornings Less Stressful for Yourself and Your Kids

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Mornings can be stressful for parents and kids alike – and they can be especially stressful at this time of year, when we’re trying to ease back into school-year morning routines. So what can you do to make mornings a little less stressful for yourself and your kids? Here are a few tips.

Do what you can the night before. Clear the deck of any and all tasks that can be tackled ahead of time, things like making lunches, filling out permission forms for your child’s school, and tracking down gym clothes and library books and other items that need to find their way back to school. 

Create a designated area for items that need to make it out the door in the morning. Don’t want your child to forget his sweater and his backpack? No problem. Park them by the front door. Worried he’ll still manage to forget the lunch that is (by necessity) still camping out in the fridge? No worries. Stick a note on his backpack to remind him to swing by the refrigerator before he makes the mad dash for the school bus.

Think simple and healthy when you’re planning breakfast menus. Save the super-involved breakfasts for weekends, when you have a bit more time for cooking and cleanup. Stick to basics on weekday mornings. Team up protein with complex carbohydrates so that your kids will have the fuel they need to function at their best while they’re at school. Think smoothies, whole-grain toast, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and other quick-and-easy breakfasts. (Tip: Make French toast whole-grain bread ahead of time. Zap it in the microwave for a couple of seconds and top it with fresh fruit for a yummy and nutritious breakfast.)  

Establish a predictable morning routine. That way, your kids will know what they’re expected to do — which will help to reduce the number of reminders required from you. If you have a child who struggles to stay organized, create a checklist based on that morning routine and hang it on the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator door — somewhere he’ll be sure to see it. Better yet, get him to create his own checklist (so that he can take responsibility for organizing his morning routine and come up with the reminder system that will work best for him).  

Factor some breathing room into your schedule. Curveballs can and do happen, so plan to get up at least 15 minutes earlier than your schedule demands. If you make a conscious effort to build a bit of a time cushion into your morning routine, you won’t have to rush yourself and your kids in order to make up for lost time. Tip: If you’d like to start your day by enjoying a bit of quiet time on your own before everyone else is up, you might consider getting up even earlier than that. Taking care of your own needs first will help to put you in a calm and positive state of mind — a great way to start your day. You’ll have the luxury of feeling in control (as opposed to feeling like your day is controlling you).