Health & Science

Mood boosters: Unique happiness hacks for families during another Covid winter

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Was anyone else hoping we’d be done with COVID by now? Now into its third year, parents have spent the pandemic worrying about their kids’ mental health. Now that we’re stuck in another long, gloomy COVID winter—it’s worth learning some new ideas to boost your kid’s mood. 

This age-by-age guide will help any family find more everyday reasons to smile during the months ahead.

Which one do you think would brighten your kid’s day the most?

Your whole family can…

  • Get some sunshine! This is especially helpful first thing in the morning. If you’re looking for something new to do outdoors (that’s fun enough to actually entice your kids to put on coats and gloves!) try one of these outdoor winter activities that take winter fun to a new level. If your kiddo isn’t a fan of the cold, these tips for keeping chilly outdoor play whine-free can help.
  • Cut down on screen time before bed.
  • Leave sweet notes for each other. You can find printable thank you notes here (along with lots of other resources to boost your family’s mood-lifting feelings of gratitude), so anyone in the family can easily fill one out when they want to share a smile.
  • Provide healthy snacks full of fiber and protein (think: peanut butter on apple slices, cheese and wheat crackers, or baby carrots with hummus).
  • When possible, eat meals together as a family.
  • Spark connection with unique conversations. Have you seen our series of Questions for Kids? Each one helps you get to know your kids better, laugh together, and dive into fun topics you might never have thought to bring up before. You can find them on Instagram (follow us there for a new batch of Qs every week!) or get printable cards to take wherever you go by clicking here.

Infants & toddlers

Babies and little kids might seem too young to need a mental health boost, but they definitely pick up on stress and tension in their environment. Plus, everyone knows toddlers have bigger emotions than almost anyone! Taking a moment for a new calming activity or to change up your usual routine a bit can make a big difference. You can try…

  • Physical affection—try a baby massage!
  • Take a daily walk and mix up which route you take.
  • Sensory play like a sandbox or a warm bath with toys.
  • Introduce a new food.
  • Make them a quiet corner with stuffed animals and board books.

Young kids

Elementary-age kids are generally old enough to remember a time before the pandemic, which can make Covid-19 restrictions tougher to deal with. They’re full of energy, too, so being cooped up indoors because of the weather doesn’t help! Here are some mood boosters you might not have tried.

  • Plan a scavenger hunt. (Here’s a helpful hack: If you want to keep it simple, do a photo scavenger hunt! Instead of collecting items from a list, everyone collects pictures of things on the list—family members who don’t have a phone can even photos on an old device or tablet. You can get a free printable scavenger hunt list, to get you started as well as lots of other great printable activities for kids, by clicking here.)
  • Blow bubbles outside—if it’s cold enough, they might even freeze, which never fails to get a great reaction from kids and parents alike!
  • Set up creative video playdates with far-away relatives or folks in quarantine.
  • Let them practice social skills by calling to order food delivery.
  • Try a family talent show!

Older kids & teens

Tweens and teens are into two main things: practicing their independence and making social connections. The pandemic has prevented them from fully exploring both of those things in a lot of ways, especially in areas where in-person school is closed all or part of the time, or sports and other activities have been put on hold indefinitely. Some activities that can boost older kids’ moods include:

  • Help them plan and carry out a random act of kindness (writing a thank you note, donating books to the library, offering to walk a neighbor’s dog)—spreading happiness is proven to make you happier!
  • Plan a one-on-one activity together—it can be as involved as an afternoon outing, or as simple as making hot chocolate.
  • Teach them “grown up” life skills (like cooking, first aid, how to write a check or change a tire, etc). This focus on their adult future helps show them that they can still work toward gaining independence, even from home.
  • Let them paint your nails or do your hair.
  • Encourage social activities (even playing games online with friends counts)!

Parenting has always taken a certain amount of creativity, but the pandemic has definitely challenged our limits for coming up with new ways to keep our kids happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. Hopefully injecting some fresh ideas from these lists into your routine will be just the boost you need to get your family happily through the winter!

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.