“Happier than a kid at Christmas” is a common phrase because often, it’s true. But it’s not always the case that the holidays are only times of joy and wonder for our kids. Just as holidays can be hard for us adults, the same can be true for our kids.
That’s especially true of kids who are grieving. You don’t hear much about them during this season, but the holidays are when they need support more than ever. That’s why I’m so glad to have this guest post by Ritamaria Laird of Individual and Family Connection counseling, a pediatric mental health expert, on how to help grieving children through the holidays
The Holidays are a special time during childhood. Many children can hardly hold in their excitement for the anticipation of presents, more free time, special activities, and an abundance of sugary treats. While the Holiday Season brings joy to some, for others it can bring on a slew of more painful and intense emotions. This time can be especially confusing and painful for children who have lost a loved one.
The holidays may take on an entirely different meaning and sorting out the big emotions while the world celebrates gleefully can be a difficult task for child and family. It may seem like an impossible task to help a child manage and express his/her emotions when you are also managing your own.
Having a “Go To” list of how to support your child may help you feel less overwhelmed. Here are just some ways to help you and your child use your relationship in order to make new meaning of the Holiday Season.
Hold the space for your child.
Provide opportunities for your child to talk about the loved and to remember what the holidays were like when they were alive (or close by). Make sure to accept ALL your child’s emotions, not matter how intense. Resist the urge to make them feel better by focusing only on positives. This gives your child the message that you can handle his emotions, no matter how uncomfortable. In turn, your child will feel safe and secure while sharing his most difficult emotions.
Open your arms and nurture your child through physical touch.
Children learn to regulate through their parents, this is called co-regulation. Provide hugs, kisses, and backrubs. Some children find great security in being tightly wrapped in a blanket and rocked or swung. Manicures and Pedicures are wonderful ways to provide nurture to more resistant children.
Children and adults all need a break from grief. Laughing and having fun not only sends the message that it is OK to smile and experience positive emotions, but provides hope that life can be filled with happiness again.
Include your child in decisions.
Your child may be feeling as though he is not in control of his world. During a time of many changes and disruptions in the normal routine, your child’s anxiety may make this time even more difficult. Provide your child with small choices whether to play at a friends or the park, or whether to make cookies or fudge for a party.
Discover new traditions and ways to celebrate.
New traditions may also include a way to remember and honor the person that died. Decorating a special ornament, writing a card or letter to the loved one, lighting a memorial candle, or creating a memory jar filled with special memories of the loved one are just some ways to recreate Holiday traditions.
Accept that the holidays will be different and what you and your family can manage may not look the same.
Be conscious of events and parties you choose to attend. You may have to decline invites or make shorter appearances to events that may be triggering or too overwhelming for your child.
You matter, too!
Don’t forget about YOU! Take time to take care of yourself. Find what makes you relax and cope with your own emotions. Meditation, hot baths, reading, and exercise are just some ways to take time away for yourself. Call on friends, family and other supports to make this possible for you. The more your mind is rested and taken care of, the more likely you are to be able to hold your child’s delicate space.
Ritamaria Laird, MA, LCPC, NCC is a leading expert in pediatric mental health in Chicago, IL. She treats children struggling with a variety of emotional and behavioral issues at Individual and Family Connection in Lincoln Park. Read more about Rita at: IFCcounseling.com
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