TIPS FOR HELPING A GRIEVING CHILD DURING THE HOLIDAYS
Holidays can be especially difficult for someone who has lost a loved one, even if the loss is not recent. Reminders of the past and happier times are everywhere, and there is creasing pressure to be happy, joyful, and grateful. Feelings of sadness are easily triggered. Below are some specific tips that can be useful in supporting bereaved kids during this time:
1. Acknowledge the feelings and don’t add on pressure to “enjoy the season.” Telling someone to “just be happy” is not helpful and only adds guilt to the equation.
2. Talk with the child about how some traditions might change, but new traditions can begin. Start this new tradition with the memory of the loved one in mind. Some specific ideas might be to make a special memorial ornament, light a designated candle, or create a holiday collage with pictures of the lost loved one.
3. Discuss holiday plans with the child. Depending on the specific circumstances, some families may prefer to stay home, while others may decide to travel somewhere completely new. Be open to new ideas and try to work together to find plans with which all are comfortable.
4. Don’t over schedule or overcommit. During holiday times, it is natural for people to have a busy schedule filled with activities and plans. This situation can make anyone feel stressed at times, but someone who is grieving may be particularly prone to fatigue and distraction. Pick some activities you all will enjoy, but be reasonable and don’t overburden someone who is grieving.
5. For at least some of the time, try to focus on helping others. Help your child choose a gift to donate to a charity, or spend a couple of hours working at a soup kitchen. This type of activity refocuses perspective and can help a child feel good about him/herself.
6. Encourage the child to be kind to him/herself. If you are the child’s caregiver, do the same for yourself. Pamper yourselves with a special meal or a small gift, or just spend time relaxing or doing something fun. Also remember to take good physical care of yourselves. Grief is a process, and each little thing adds up to stronger resilience and coping skills.
7. Be aware of red flags that may indicate a child is having a particularly hard time and may need more help. Feelings of depression, including suicidal ideation, are especially strong during holiday times. Don’t be afraid to ask a child how he/she is feeling, and reach out for support if you think it is needed.
8. Give yourselves time and space, and realize that there are many “normal” ways to grieve. There is also no set timetable for grief. As long as the reactions are not destructive, be patient.