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Supporting Grieving Children During the Holidays

Navigating the holidays after the death of a loved one can be a time of stress and challenges for children and their caregivers.

Holidays are typically associated with family, togetherness and tradition, all of which make this time of year even more difficult when a loved one is no longer present. The first holidays are usually the most difficult due to not knowing what to expect. Children often wonder what it will be like without that person. The following are tips that can help support grieving children during the holidays.

Open communication. Providing children a safe place to express their feelings and the opportunity to ask questions and get honest answers in age appropriate language are some of the best ways adults can support grieving children. Talk openly about how you both feel and how you will miss your loved one. Let them know that any feelings they may be experiencing are okay.

Plan ahead. Making a plan ahead of time helps make the holidays feel more manageable and reduces your child’s anxiety. You may want to keep previous traditions as much as possible, or this may be a good time to switch up traditions and start new ones. The best way to proceed is by talking with your child. Ask which traditions are most comforting and meaningful that should be kept and which would be better to change or omit.

Lower your expectations. The holidays can be overwhelming under good circumstances but when there is a death in the family they are even more difficult. You may not be able to do all the things you’ve always done. Consider scaling back. It’s important to do only as much as you can manage comfortably. Keep this in mind for children as well, especially teens. They may appear more irritated or even angry when they are stressed. More down time or some time hanging out with friends may be helpful.

- Holly Bender, MSW, LCSW, APHSW-C


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