I think I can speak for millions of parents when I say I could not be happier that winter is almost over. We’ve spent the entire winter cooped in a small apartment and for a family who likes to be outside as much as we do cabin fever = torture. If I had a penny for every time I have uttered the words “what is wrong with you today” my financial situation wouldn’t look so dire, but the answer to that question is simple—cabin fever is what’s wrong and it plagues families all over the world.
WHAT IS CABIN FEVER?
The term cabin fever is usually used loosely to describe an intense boredom that results from being cooped in a room or house for a long period. Most people use it as a slang to describe being extremely bored, but it is a medical condition that can be diagnosed by a professional. In fact, according to VeryWellMind, the symptoms of cabin fever are as followed:
- Sadness or depression
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of patience
- Food cravings
- Decreased motivation
- Social Isolation
- Difficulty waking
- Frequent napping
- Changes in weight
- Inability to cope with stress
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms and some people may experience only a few of the symptoms listed above. This would be miserable for a full-grown adult so you can imagine how a child might feel.
HOW CABIN FEVER EFFECTS FAMILIES
Our family loves being outdoors and we’re always looking for things to do outside. We go hiking, fishing, swimming, bike riding and camping all summer long. Basically, if you can do it outdoors, we do it. Maine is a beautiful state, and it’s not uncommon for us to just go for a drive to find a new adventure. This is hard to do in the winter when you have children because it just gets too cold for them to be safe outdoors. We go from being active all spring/summer/fall to being trapped in a small apartment together constantly. It’s hard on everyone and especially hard on the children.
My kids get antsy and bored. They have all this extra energy to burn and nowhere to blow off steam. They try to run and are told not to run in the house. They try to jump on the beds and are asked to stop jumping on the furniture. They pull out their bikes and try to ride them around the living room, which obviously they are told not to do. They get frustrated because they want to be kids but they’re constantly told to behave in the house.
Inside voice, don’t run, stop jumping, don’t throw the ball inside and no we cannot go swimming in the bathtub!
I looked at my daughter and asked her what was wrong with her one day after the hundredth time of having to ask her to stop doing something she knew she shouldn’t be doing. Then I realized there was nothing wrong with her, she was just trying to be a kid which is impossible to do in a tiny two bedroom apartment. But what could we do?
HOW TO BEAT CABIN FEVER
Unfortunately, I cannot sit here and tell you there’s a magical cure for cabin fever. I wish I could, but I can’t. What I can tell you is there are a few things you can do to make winter much more bearable on the entire family.
LOOSEN RULES AND EXPECTATIONS
Okay, you cannot let your children wreck the house but you can let them build a fort in their bedroom. You shouldn’t let them slide down the stairs on a mattress—even though that sounds like A LOT OF fun—but you could let them build a pillow mountain to jump on. Yelling in the house is not always tolerated, but it’s a rule that could be broken once or twice without consequence.
Imagine being able to run and yell outside for months and then told you had to be confined to a small playroom where you had to contain that excitement. That would be hard for most adults but children don’t have the coping skills to deal with that much pent-up energy, so they become frustrated and act out. If breaking a house rule or two could prevent this behavior wouldn’t that be worth it?
There are millions of activity ideas on Pinterest or Google and most of them require things that can be found in the house. For example: pulling the couch cushions onto the floor and playing “the floor is lava” is a great way to get them jumping around and exercising. It keeps them active while helping them to burn off the excess energy.
You probably don’t want your children trashing the house to play all day long but that’s when the next idea comes in handy.
SET A ROUTINE
Children thrive on routine. People underestimate the power of routine all the time. Seriously, a simple routine can absolutely change a parent’s life. Kids crave structure and when they know what to expect and what is expected of them, they tend to have fewer issues.
Set aside certain blocks of time for different activities. You don’t have to be a drill sergeant about it and lunch doesn’t have to be promptly at noon every day, but setting up that structure gives kids something to do instead of getting bored and frustrated.
Set aside time for an activity together, reading time and even relaxation time. This helps parents just as much as their children because during quiet time kids won’t be pestering them to play because they know that is coming later.
This worked really well for us. During the week our children have school during the day, but the weekends were getting chaotic because our children were constantly bored and trying to find some way to occupy their minds. Now they remind us that it’s time to read, or board game time and during quiet time they are ready to sit down with their toys and play quietly.
OMG I know right. You’re already bored and stuck in the house together and now you have to exercise too? Believe it or not, once you find a program that everyone likes to do, exercising can be a lot of fun.
My daughter gets really excited when she sees me start to stretch because she knows we are going to do some Yoga. She might not understand the concept behind Yoga— a quiet relaxation techniques—but she likes to come up with new poses and see if I can do them too!
You can find a lot of great indoor exercise ideas for younger kids that are fun for everyone. We like to turn on music and dance around the house. Every once in a while I can turn it into dance-cleaning time when we dance around while picking up their toys. The kids have a blast and love laughing at the funny dance moves you do while trying to pick up Legos.
GoNoodles are also a good way to enjoy time together while being active. They can be found online and there are numerous variations of this idea. Try to come up with your own rhyme and dance moves to go along with it!
Sometimes when my kids just aren’t feeling exercise I can get them interested by turning off the lights and putting a flashlight behind us. They love watching their shadows on the wall while we dance or stretch.
When you live in areas where it gets too hot or cold to go outside or the weather just doesn’t permit it you’re going to get bored and experience cabin fever. While there’s nothing you can do about the weather outside, you can beat the boredom being inside causes by utilizing the ideas above.