Helping Children during the Holidays

Holidays are usually times of sharing and togetherness but after a death in the family, holiday season can be difficult to endure for everyone including the children. Traditions that bring about memories of the deceased may bring a flood of emotions for a child.

According to Alan Wolfelt author of Helping Children Cope with Grief some families mistakenly try to deny these feelings by avoiding certain holiday customs - like putting up tree or exchanging gifts. "Such avoidance is an impossible task in an environment that constantly reminds us of the holidays. The important question is - Will children struggle alone through the holidays or work through problem in the presence of loving adults?"

While there is no easy rule to follow here are some suggestions in helping children cope during the holidays:

  1. Be aware that your behavior influences a grieving child. A child's ability to cope with the problem depends on the ability of the adults to express their grief and convey to the child that it's okay to express a wide range of feelings. Adults must let children know that tears do not signal rejection but rather, sadness. If a parent says "I am sad because I miss _______________" , the child will understand that emotions are ok to have.
  2. Provide children with special amounts of attention and emotional support. Take an active role in helping a child cope with their grief. Children don't always show sadness as openly as adults.
  3. Pay attention to the child's cues. Recognize that children need to talk and express their emotions rather than talk.
  4. Create a special time during the holiday to talk about the deceased family member. Younger children might find it helpful to look at family photographs when they discuss their memories. Talking about good and bad memories gives the child permission to be sincere about emotions.
  5. Don't avoid all family traditions during the holidays. Children might find comfort in such customs as decorating the tree or baking holiday cookies. Traditions provide a structure for the expression of the child's thoughts and feelings but you might consider withdrawing a little from excessive holiday activities. Pick and choose what you and your children would like to do together. Ask them what they would like to choose and explain to them you may not have the energy to do all the things you use to.

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