HOLIDAY GRIEF BELONGS TO KIDS TOO. DON’T FORGET TO SUPPORT CHILDREN (AKA: THE FORGOTTEN GRIEVERS)
Updated: Jan 6
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
When it comes to bereavement, a lot of attention is directed towards adults. Remember one thing, though. CHILDREN ARE THE FORGOTTEN GRIEVERS.
Christmas and Hanukkah are almost here, and while adults are strategizing how to survive the holidays, children are likely to be wondering the same thing, in their own quiet way, with little ability to articulate the questions which will bring them the answers.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind and HELP YOU HELP THE GRIEVING CHILDREN in your life “make it through.”
It’s important to talk with your child about the upcoming holiday season. Children grieve in their own timetable and in their own way, so keep in mind that however they do or don’t show it, they are very attuned to loss and “first” holidays and absences of the “normal”. Talk openly with your child about his or her feelings and expectations. Ask what kinds of activities or rituals they think are important.
Discuss your family’s holiday traditions and how they will be observed this year. Some children want holiday customs to stay the same. Some traditions are comforting ones, while others are too hard for a child to imagine wanting to continue. When you are choosing which traditions stay and which traditions go, consider your child’s feelings as well. Then, share your decisions before the changes occur.
It’s OK for this year to be different. Many families make new traditions that are very special. Any attempt to create a perfect holiday celebration while you’re in “grief mode,” will cause you (and your child) unnecessary stress. If finances have decreased, buy fewer gifts. If appetites or the energy for cooking are low, go out to eat or bring food in. Children can feel the stresses of adults. New traditions can be easier, and even exciting.
Don’t pretend the death didn’t occur. No one forgets that someone they love is missing. Ignoring the absence of the deceased loved one will be confusing to a child who is already disoriented by the death. Talk together about how you both feel, and how you miss your loved one.
Ask children how they would like to remember their special person during the holidays. It could be …. making a holiday decoration using photos of their special person, writing a letter to put in the deceased person’s stocking, letting the child set a place at the dinner table for their loved one, or saying something special while lighting the Hanukkah menorah. There are so many ways to incorporate people and memories into family gatherings.
Try to stick to routines, as well as allowing for some flexibility. Grieving children benefit from a normal routine, but the holidays alone can disrupt schedules. You can try to balance their regular schedule with an awareness of what they need in the moment.
Make holiday plans that help your child feel nurtured, emotionally safe, and comfortable. Laughter, play, and joy are good for children. Children do not grieve continuously; they need to take breaks from grieving. Encourage your child to play, run, and do the recreational activities he or she would normally do. Clown around – be silly, even if it seems impossible.
Encourage your child to attend holiday functions. Accept invitations to holiday parties and activities, especially if the event includes time with supportive family members and friends.
Pay close attention to your child’s emotional condition. Watch how your child responds to events. Be ready to support and comfort your child. Realize that familiar traditions, sights, smells, and even tastes, may be comforting to your child or may jolt his or her emotions. Let your child express the happiness and the sadness.
Care. Care for each other. Care for yourself by eating, exercising and sleeping well so that you can more easily provide care and attention to your child.
Closeness. Stay close to your children through daily talks or activities. One of the best places to get a child to talk is in the car. You may end up with a healthy discussion about the things their loved one liked about the holidays.
No matter how this Hanukkah or Christmas season ends up for you, give yourself a break. Know that you did your best and all that you were capable of doing, in the face of the toughest time in life – grief.
To my readers, I wish you a peaceful time in the coming days.
EMAIL OR CALL FOR A COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATION.
TOUGH TIMES BENEFIT FROM GENTLE SUPPORT