Our daily lives are filled with evolving changes caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. Due to travel challenges and related health and safety concerns, as well as the CDC’s recommendations limiting group gatherings, holidays this year will certainly look different than in years past. Difficult decisions will need to be made about how we will celebrate these occasions with our families. Rethinking plans and the need to cancel them completely may cause additional stress at a time already strife with worry.
During these times, children will continue to look to adults for reassurance and guidance on how to react to these changes and the disappointment that may accompany them. Helping them to cope with their emotions, in addition to our own, will provide them with the understanding and reassurance that they need.
Strategies for helping children cope with changes during the holidays include:
- Children learn through modeling and by example. Be a role model for them. Acknowledge your own disappointment or sadness at missing these important events. Share with them how you deal with your own feelings. Give them the words they need to express their emotions matched to their developmental level.
- Disappointment and grief are responses we would expect to see when experiencing a sense loss. Have open and honest conversations with your children about what they are feeling and let their comments guide you and lead you through the discussion. Many books have been published to help children understand their emotions. Read them to your younger child or together as a family with older children.
- Be honest and accurate in the information you share with them about why hosting or participating in a large gathering at the holidays can be dangerous. Provide them with accurate, correct information, but be mindful to keep explanations at a developmentally appropriate level. If they experience fear around the topic of COVID, respond with calm and reassure them that they are safe. Children may process big emotions such as fear or grief in waves – sometimes appearing upset and other times appearing unaffected. Allow them this pattern of response so that they can process the information and their emotions gradually and over time.
- Try to focus on the more positive aspects of celebrating the holidays with your immediate family. Find fun family projects related to these holidays. Read together, exercise together, play board games or get outside when you can. The aftermath of a global pandemic has resulted in a myriad of on-line participatory activities – find one that your whole family can enjoy together. Allow older children the time to connect with friends virtually to engage with and support each other at a distance.
- Rethink old traditions and consider starting new ones. Think of ways to connect with your extended family and friends outside of a large group gathering. As food is often a focal point of the holidays, consider collecting a favorite recipe from each family member and create the same meal in each home. Share photos or gather together through technology. If religious or spiritual practices are a part of your holiday, consider collectively joining the services as they are streamed live.
- Lastly, during this stressful time, children may simply need more attention from adults and more of our time. Remind them that they are safe, that you are there to keep them healthy. Be reassuring and give them lots of affection and tell them how much you love them.