How to Help Grieving Children at the Holidays
Holidays are usually happy times with smiles, hugs, and family. However, for anyone who has had a love one recently pass away, a holiday can be a poignant reminder of their absence. Knowing how to help grieving children at the holidays can be especially difficult, as children may be confused about how they are supposed to feel.
Children may be enthusiastic at special holiday activities, but also miss their deceased loved one. Not seeing the loved one sitting at the table, enjoying the holiday, can be unsettling and a striking moment of loss for a child. In general, a child’s behavior and personality may change when he or she is grieving the loss of a loved one. Expect that during the holidays, grieving children may behave erratically or unexpectedly.
If you and your family have suffered a loss, and you are looking for ways to help grieving children cope during the holiday season, you might consider the following techniques to help your child remember the loved one and celebrate his or her life throughout a stressful and emotional time of the year. Children find comfort in different ways, so the following suggestions may not be appropriate for every child or family, but we encourage you seek to find something that is.
Children may not be in touch with their feelings. During the holidays, absorption in your own grief and sense of loss may make it difficult to talk about feelings with children, but do your best. If the child needs to talk, listen. Give the child all the time he or she needs. Encourage discussions about memories to give children an opportunity to tap into their feelings.
Keep Comforting Familiarities
Children find comfort in the familiar, so keeping the same family traditions from before the loved one passed away can help a child feel safe and secure. Children need to see that life continues.
Create a Tribute Tradition
“From Destruction to Rebuilding: Grief and the Holidays”
Many people feel relief when taking action. Start a new tradition that honors the departed. Visit a soup kitchen and donate time or food, light a candle at dinner and remember the loved one, visit the cemetery, purchase a keepsake or ornament to add to your holiday collection, or look through photos of past holiday gatherings.
Include the Whole Family
Have everyone in the family, including the children, create an approach to special celebrations. Everyone who is grieving may want to approach the holiday celebrations differently, and using everyone’s input can help your family access whether to scale things down or make them larger. Honor everyone’s wishes as much as possible.
A Chair of Remembrance
The Grief Healing Blog suggests that one successful tradition to help grieving children is to set an empty chair and place-setting at the table for the departed loved one. Some people also place a picture of the loved one or other token on the chair, in his or her honor.
Give the Child a Support Buddy
Make the child aware that if they are not alone in losing someone special. Grieving family members may be lost in sorrow and struggling during the holidays. Let children know that the difficult situation is hurting the other family members, and how to help. Talk about how the child can be a comfort and source of strength and joy to other family members in difficult times. Children can be very empathetic and happy to comfort others.
Take a Break
Adults’ awareness of influences at school, sports, work, and other activities is important in children’s lives, and the holidays can be a chance to take a break from those stresses and come together to understand one another. Talk to the child about his or her life and interests, and listen to what he or she says.
If everyone is following a plan, but the child has a “meltdown,” then it can help a grieving child if you simply adjust your plans a little. Don’t insist on sticking to a plan if the child needs some quiet time or time to cry. Following a holiday plan shouldn’t be torture, just a guideline.
Give the Child a Voice
To help grieving children, listen to their offered ideas for activities to honor the deceased loved one. Try to help them put their ideas into action. Anytime they see that they are making a difference, it can help grieving children to feel better.
Grieving children create imaginative ways to remember loved ones
Often, the first holiday after a death can be the most difficult. Be patient, allow and expect the unexpected, and know that grieving children’s feelings may be unexplainable and scattered. With support and help, grieving children can get through the holidays, knowing that although life may be different now, they have the love of those still here.
If you and your family are looking to share stories and build a digital tribute website in honor of a loved one who has passed away, visit Everlasting Footprint and invite others to collaborate with you.
Additional Resources to help children with grief during the holidays:
Helping Grieving Children Through the Holidays – by Grief Share
Children and Loss: When Holidays Trigger Grief – by Mary C. Lemina, PhD. at Psychology Today
Helping Grieving Families Through the Holidays – by Bo’s Place, at childgrief.org
Navigating Children’s Grief – by the Children’s Grief Education Association, at childgrief.org
Special Celebrations and Holidays: Helping Bereaved Children – by Robin F. Goodman, PhD. at The Child Study Center