Kids aren’t supposed to be grieving at Holiday time, but thanks to COVID, some are grappling with the deaths of grandparents, beloved aunts, and uncles, or others who play important roles in their lives.
Helping them through the mourning process is key for their parents anytime, but it is especially challenging during this time of year.
Acknowledging kids’ feelings of loss is the first step toward helping them sort through their sadness, according to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) a national, non-profit organization that provides grief care for families, friends, and military service members who have been affected by a death in the armed services.
“Children can be resilient, but there are also vulnerable and they carry stress with limited capacity for managing acute anxiety that often accompanies grief,” TAPS said in a written statement. “They suffer deep emotional pain after someone dies, particularly when the relationship was substantive and impactful such as a grandparent, parent or beloved aunt, uncle, or other family members.”
The loss is even more painful during the holiday season when kids are expected to be joyful and carefree, according to Heather Stang, MA, who holds a Master’s degree in Thanatology (Death, Dying, and Bereavement), and serves on the TAPS advisory board.
“Grief during the holidays serves up a perfect storm where joyous memories crash against reality and expectations, something that is especially tough when it’s a child who’s grieving,” Stang said in a written statement.
According to Stang, there are things parents can do during the holiday season to help kids cope with loss. Here’s what she suggests:
Acknowledge that this holiday season will be different
Trying to pull off the perfect holiday celebration will likely only cause both parents and kids more stress, so when it comes to planning holiday time events, concentrate on making those events simple and meaningful. At the same time, try to include the child in the conversation and planning of holiday- time events.
Balance new traditions with old ones
If a grandparent who usually reads “The Night Before Christmas” to the family has died this year, ask the child whether someone else should read the poem, or discard the tradition entirely.
“This way you empower the child to share their feelings with you, and allows you to keep traditions that work, let go of those that don’t, and create new ones because you want to, not because you have to,” Stang pointed out.
Ask kids how they would like to remember that special person during the holidays
Creating a holiday decoration using photos of that person, writing a letter to put in the deceased person’s stocking, or baking cookies with their favorite recipe, can all help to knit memories into family gatherings.
Stick to routines but allow for some flexibility
Grieving children benefit from a normal routine, so whatever extent is possible, try to keep a steady routine, especially and meal and bedtime.
“At the same time, balance their regular schedule with an awareness of what they need in the moment,” Stang said.
Finally, whatever the time of year, kids need their parents help to navigate their unique ways through grieving process.
“Keep in mind that, there are no hard and fast rules other than loving (grieving children) and allowing them to share their memories and needs,” Stang said.