It is getting closer for everyone favorite time of the year. Conversations amongst our friends and co-workers are geared towards the holidays. What are we going to make for dinner? Walking in the stores there are more pictures of pumpkins, turkeys, and Christmas trees. Rarely do people stop to think about families who have loss a love one during the year and how it impact the children within the family. The holidays can be a constant reminder of loves ones that are not alive to celebrate the season. Children are mainly affected by the death of a parent, sibling, grandmother or grandfather. This time of the year will be particular difficult and may triggers unwanted feelings. In children and adolescents, feelings often appear in negative behaviors such as irritability, aggression verbal or physical, defiant, or having a feeling of sadness. It is important for adults to play a major part in children lives to help them work through and acknowledge feelings.
Communication: Talk to the child. Allow them to express their feelings openly. Ask questions on how they would like to celebrate the holiday. Is there a special person they would like to invite over to dinner? Would the child prefer to spend the holiday at home with few family and friends? If there is a certain tradition they would like to keep. For example every year we make Reindeer food or we pass out Christmas cards to neighbors as a family. Explain to the child it is normal to have feelings of sadness and hurt at times. It is okay to be happy and enjoy the holiday.
Celebration of Life: Allow the child to tell stories about their love ones. Make a special place in the home to place a picture and calendar. Create a holiday photo book of special time spent with that person during the previous holidays. Involve friends and family by allowing them to add special stories or pictures they have. I once viewed a global balloon launch via facebook and social media. Friends and family members video their self-releasing balloon in honor of their love one and then uploaded clips on social media using a special hashtag. This could be particular used for older children and adolescents with the guidance of an adult. Have the child assist on creating their own memory blanket or stocking.
Plan New Traditions: After open communication with child decide if new traditions is warrant. Celebrate the holiday at the beach or go to a restaurant for dinner. If grandmother always host the dinner and she is no longer with the family plan to have dinner elsewhere. This could be a time for a vacation.
Dealing with the loss of a love one is a transition. There are times when children would need additional support outside of family. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment to a mental health provider that could assist the child in working through grief appropriately.