1. Talk to Your Kids/Listen to Your Kids
Communicate daily with your child about his or her needs. Any school age child will have many thoughts and opinions to express throughout their grieving process and especially during the holidays. Take your cues from them as to how to manage their time. Help them put words to their feelings when they are stuck. Remind them it is okay to not feel happy one day or hour and to feel sad one day or the very next hour. Depending on their age remember to keep your words direct and easy to understand. Don’t be afraid to let your child see you are also sad. Children are highly in tune to their parents emotions. Be honest with your child in a way he or she can understand.
2. Keep It Simple
Many families are frantically busy with school activities, work parties, family get togethers, shopping, etc. Children who are grieving typically need a slower, more spaced out activity schedule. Try to eliminate activities rather than add to the activity schedule this year. For example, If the child is in a school play or music concert, ask if he or she would like to attend the performance or skip it this year. Simplifying allows kids to still celebrate but to get enough rest and down time. Some children, especially teens, will want to continue to be involved with extracurricular activities as it helps them with their grief. Each child is different and you know what your children need better than anyone else does.
3. Try to protect sleep schedules and routines.
Protecting sleep schedules and routines will greatly help your children manage emotions as they fluctuate from happy to sad during the holiday season. Prioritize sleep and family meal routines and the rest will fall into place as you navigate through the season.
4. Keep Old Traditions & Add New Traditions
Every family has holiday traditions. Some will be set aside with the loss of a loved one. That is normal and good. Talk to your kids about which traditions to keep this year and which to set aside. Keep as many meaningful traditions going and add a new tradition or two. For example, my mom always brought a big plate of our family’s traditional Christmas cookies to our family Christmas Eve event. After she passed away, the women and girls in the family started a new tradition of getting together for a full day of Christmas baking to make all of those traditional treats. Some families like to include a picture of their loved one within their holiday decorating scenes. Do what works for you and your children.
5. Include Exercise and Play Time in Your Schedule.
Holiday business can inadvertently push out time to exercise and play. Purposefully scheduling such times helps keep these important stress reducers in place and can help alleviate grieving. Ideas such as: a family movie night or swim night, skiing, playing in the snow, video game contests, etc. can build unity and help fight grief and stress at the same time.
The first holiday season after a loss can be extremely difficult for anyone. Children especially feel the loss of a loved one more during the holiday season. A bit of grief welling up during subsequent holiday seasons is very normal as well. The most important things during the holidays while grieving with children are to remember to listen to, talk with and love your child as you get through the seasons together.