The holidays are all about family gatherings, joyful sharing of gifts, and upbeat memories, right? While that is true for many of us, holidays can also stir up memories for families who have lost a loved one. Parents in particular need to be mindful of the way the holiday season can impact their children. The goal is to strike a balance between honoring the memory of the deceased and still carrying on important family traditions. Here a few things to consider if a grandparent or other close adult has died recently:
- The child's age determines their reaction. Very young children don't have a thorough understanding of death. Sometimes they will act as if nothing has happened. Preschoolers might believe that if they wish for the loved one to come back, it might come true. Older children may withdraw or act out, depending on their moods. All of these responses are normal.
- It's OK to cry. Often, parents try to protect their children from negative emotions. But children are very astute. Far better for them to see a parent be sad and talk about missing Nana than for them to wonder why Mom won't come out of her bedroom or decorate the tree this year.
- Routines matter. Even in the face of a death, children find great solace in rituals. So, if the entire family used to gather and sing carols, it's important to try to keep up that tradition. If a parent feels unable to participate, finding another caring adult to carry on the ritual is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
- Commemoration is healing. Help the child create a box and write down memories of a loved one. Include new traditions you might want to begin. For instance, perhaps there's a particular ornament that can be placed prominently in the home as a visual reminder.
- Art helps children cope. Sometimes children have deep feelings but are unable to express them in words. But all children draw, and adults can join in, without feeling the pressure to talk. There are wonderful books for children, such as The Moon Balloon by Joan Drescher, that might help them in their healing journey.
While nothing will completely take away the sting of loss of a loved one during the holidays, children learn valuable lessons from their parents. They see that it's better to acknowledge all feelings, rather than hide from them. And they'll learn, as holidays become joyful once again, the power of resilience.
What tried-and-true strategies have you used to help your child deal with grief and the holidays?
Boston Irish is actually Maureen O'Brien, a Shine Parenting Guru, mom of twins, and the founder of www.destinationparenting.com. Her musings can also be found on Galtime.com. She is passionate about all things parenting.