How to Stay Sane with Kids in Winter: A Six-Step Plan


Since having children almost three years ago, my view of winter has drastically changed.

Instead of Lorelei Gilmore-levels of whimsy and delight, I now approach the coldest, darkest season of the year with Jon Snow-levels of dread and despair.

Yes, winter is coming. And for me, it means months stuck inside with a 1 and 2-year-old, chilly days without playgrounds, parks or outdoor time. It also means cold and flu season, which leaves trips to indoor children’s venues and play gyms a less than appealing proposition.

Luckily, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to survive, methods for staving off cabin fever and the winter blahs (or in the case of parents, winter lunacy). Follow this six-step plan, and with a little luck, some wine, and the occasional self-care day, we might all make it to spring intact.

1. Keep a well-stocked activity/desperation closet.

Quite simply, every parent needs a desperation closet. Think of it as a backup plan for those days when it’s wet and frozen outside, the kids have watched literally every episode of Llama Llama on Netflix (twice), and you are one “Mom I’m bored” from running off screaming hysterically into the woods. Fill it with playdough, coloring books, slime, goo, whatever keeps your children occupied for a solid thirty (or even just five) minutes. The catch is that this closet must be inaccessible at any other time. Padlock it. Board it up. Keep it in one of those glass containers that reads “In case of emergencies only.” Whatever it takes to keep it a surprise reserved only for the longest, coldest of winter days.

2. Create a mommy panic room.

Kids need an activity closet. Mothers need a panic room. Think of the Jodie Foster movie, only instead of murderous robbers you are hiding from your offspring (which sometimes can be more frightening). Find a room/closet/bathroom in your house with a lock (preferably a padlock) and make it your safe place on those winter days when your children are foaming at the mouth and driving you absolutely nuts. Even if it’s just for five minutes. Even if it’s just to watch Instagram stories or buy some new socks off Amazon. Even if your children are literally screaming at you from a foot away or sticking their fingers under the door. That little moment of alone time can be worth its weight in gold

3. Lean into the darkness.

Toddlers are many things, but good at telling time is not one of them. Your child does not get the concept of shorter days or earlier sunsets. Until they’re well into preschool, they also don’t read clocks. If you have little children, use these factors to your advantage and pull a winter long con. Who says bedtime can’t move up a little on those dark days? Who is going to stop you from putting your 2-year-old to bed at 6 and just pretending it’s 7? No one. No one will stop you. Cue evil laugh.

4. Get creative with outings.

So, the playground is off limits, and indoor play gyms can be germ coated incubators. Why not mix it up a little this winter? Hardywood West Creek has an enormous indoor area with kid-friendly games. There are multiple indoor malls where your kids can run and go nuts in a climate-controlled environment. If your kids are older, there are some local theaters that do early morning showings of kids’ movies. Maymont has a great indoor Nature Center, and Lewis Ginter has a (heated) Conservatory full of beautiful, tropical blooms. That’s not to even mention the Science Museum or VMFA. Richmond has tons of options for winter excursions. All you need is a spirit of exploration.

5. Embrace the advantages of the cold.

It can be easy to talk yourself out of outdoor winter excursions with kids. There is a lot of work involved in putting coats and gloves on tiny humans who fight you every step of the way. But if you get past the initial fear of heading out into the cold, there are tremendous advantages of winter outings. Places like Maymont and public parks are much less crowded than in warmer, peak season months. Many of the animals at the Metro Richmond Zoo tend to be perkier and more active in cooler weather than in the hottest months of summer. There are no mosquitos, no humidity, and kids tend to be less cranky in the cold than in extreme heat. They also can be half naked in 32-degree weather and barely get goosebumps. So, wrestle your kids into some winter gear and head outside.

6. Accept people are going to ask you about your child’s coat.

In 2018, most parents are aware of the fact that it’s not safe to buckle kids into car seats in heavy winter coats. This often means that if you’re running in and out of a store, there’s no point struggling to get a coat on your kid for the 30-second walk. However, while most parents know this information, the rest of the world often does not. Which means you will get a lot of comments about how “freezing” your child must be when you’re in parking lots. A lot of judgmental stares from people who pointedly look at your heavy down parka and then your toddler in his or her light-weight fleece. It’s inevitable that people will think you a monster. Accept it and move on.

Let’s face it. Winter can be really hard on parents.

Long days stuck inside. Limited outing options. The necessity of having to spend 15-minutes properly applying a glove to a toddler’s hand, only for it to come off .5 seconds later.

However, winter with kids can also be magic (think that first snowfall or sledding trip). And at the very least, with some humor and flexibility, we can all make it through until spring.