Supporting Kids Through the Ups and Downs of the Holiday Season

For grieving families, the winter months may spark unexpected feelings of fear and anxiety over the approaching holidays. Where will we spend special days? What will we do? Will it upset Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, etc., if I bring up the person who died? Is it okay to have fun?

Most often, children who have experienced the death of someone special are part of a larger family unit that is also grieving and adjusting to life after that same loss. As adults, taking care of ourselves and giving space to our own grief is essential as we support the grieving kids in our lives.

Childhood grief is tricky no matter what, but the holidays can be a time of especially heightened emotion. The season’s sights and sounds can be triggers for children and adults alike. Combine that with an awareness that things will be very different without your special person, and you have the perfect recipe for emotional meltdowns and miscommunication all around. While it may be impossible to avoid this altogether, there are ways you can lessen the stress and build in moments of peace and celebration.

-Choose an old tradition that can be continued. Children are comforted by routine and normalcy. Even though everything else may be different, choosing even one tradition from holidays past helps the family feel connected to the loved one who died.
-Plan even the simple things. Young people love to feel in control of their world. Including them in decisions about meals, decorations and table seating can help them to feel more connected to the celebration and in control of things going on around them.
-Schedule “down time.” Feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated and overtired can lead to behaviors and emotions most families would like to avoid. Including time for rest and play throughout a busy holiday schedule allows kids (and adults) to decompress before they reach a tipping point.
-Try something new. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught all of us that there are different ways to do almost anything. Plan a virtual meet up with friends or family who can’t be together in person, sing favorite holiday songs, play holiday charades, light a candle “together” in honor of the person who died or simply share stories and memories of past holidays.
-Allow fun and laughter to have its space. Children naturally move between the presence of grief and moments of joy. As adults, we can learn from them: there is room for both. Affirm and validate for them that it is still okay to laugh, play and be excited.
The loved ones we are missing often brought joy to our lives. That is why we miss them. Allowing and acknowledging the joy that remains is a beautiful way to honor their memory. We wish you and the kids in your life a season of comfort, joy and memories.

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