The holidays can be a difficult time for children who are grieving. Not only do memories of lost loved ones tend to surface at this time, but children may not know how (or feel able) to express their pain during a time that’s supposed to be joyful.  As an adult in their lives, you need to know how to help grieving children during the holidays.

 The most important thing when celebrating the holidays during a time of grief is not to pretend nothing has changed. Instead, embrace the loss with open arms and allow it to become a part of your holiday celebrations.

 Talk, Talk, Talk

  • Enough cannot be said about the importance of simply talking to children about their grief. Talk about the departed loved one. Give children a chance to share their feelings, stories and favorite holiday memories. Discuss your plans for the holidays, and talk about how things will be different this year. For kids who have trouble expressing their feelings verbally, give them a chance to draw or journal about their grief. By broaching the subject yourself, you give kids permission to talk about it and prevent it from becoming taboo.
  •  It’s okay if you choke up or have trouble talking about it yourself. It’s okay to let children see that you’re sad, too. By letting your own feelings out, you’re modeling healthy behavior for them and sending the message that grief isn’t something to fear – nor is it something to cling to.
Don’t Overdo It
  • The stress of the holidays can be overwhelming, especially when you’re grieving. You – and the children in your life – may need extra rest at this time. Participate in the holidays as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to set limits. Be flexible, and don’t place too many demands on children or yourself. Always have an escape plan if things become too difficult to manage.
  • By the same token, don’t be alarmed when children act as if nothing is wrong. Children grieve differently than adults. While they will certainly experience intense emotions during the holidays, and may act depressed or upset sometimes, they also need to take breaks from their grieving and spend time just being kids. It’s perfectly normal for bereaved children to experience bouts of laughter and play; these are moments for rejoicing
Examine Old and New Traditions
  • The holidays are laden with tradition for many families. When a loved one dies, cherished traditions are often broken or irreparably altered – especially those that were created or maintained by the deceased. For children, losing the comfort of these traditions can sap the holidays of their magic.
  •  While maintaining traditions as much as possible can help comfort children in their time of grief, it’s also healthy to allow old traditions to transform in order to suit the family’s changing needs. Have a meaningful conversation with the child about which traditions to keep, which may need to be modified, and what new traditions you’d like to create. Creating new traditions for the holidays can help strengthen family bonds and reinforce the child’s sense of security in the wake of a loss.
Create  Holiday Tribute

A wonderful way to keep a lost loved one alive during the holidays is to create a new tradition or tribute in his or her memory. This lets children know it’s okay to carry the departed with them as they celebrate. For example:

  •  Hang a special ornament.  Help the child pick out or make a special ornament for the loved one. Once the tree has been decorated, ceremoniously give the ornament a place of honor on the tree.
  •  Take to the kitchen.  Help the child cook a special holiday dish in honor of the lost loved one – it could be a favorite dessert or side dish. You can even set a place at the table for the missing family member.
  •  Carry a memento.  Let the child carry a picture or other reminder around in order to feel closer to the person. Give the child a loved one’s shirt or other article of clothing to sleep in.
  •  Do something for others.  Helping others reminds us of our own blessings. Adopt a needy family for Christmas; invite someone over who would otherwise be alone; make cookies for a local nursing home; or help feed the hungry at a homeless shelter.

There are many other ways to memorialize a loved one during the holidays. Light a special candle at the table, create a memorial wreath, make a collage – whatever reminds the child of the loved one. The more positive holiday memories you create, the less room there will be for grief.

 © 2011 Miri Rossitto 

 Valley of Life is an online memorial website dedicated to preserving and celebrating the lives of loved ones who have passed on. Miri Rossitto started the website in 2006 after losing her own mother. She believed that the internet needed a safe and respectful destination where people could grieve in whatever manner they chose. Valley of Life is quickly growing into one of the largest resource providers of end of life care and Miri looks very forward to connecting with many more people seeking comfort and care.