Whilst the holiday season can be a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness for some people, this time of year can also bring a unique set of challenges and emotions for grieving children and their families.
Dealing with the loss of a loved one increases the complexity of the holiday season, as children may find themselves grappling with increased responsibilities amidst the festivities.
There are several added burdens that grieving children may feel during the holiday season, however families and communities can support them through this challenging time. Additional challenges can include:
The holiday season can exacerbate the emotional strain that grieving kids already experience. This time of year often means an increased frequency of family gatherings and traditions, serving as a stark reminder of the absence of a loved one. The real or perceived pressure to maintain a facade of normalcy and participate in festive activities may also contribute to heightened stress and anxiety that children can feel.
Asking your child what they feel comfortable doing this holiday season is a helpful way to provide them with a sense of psychological safety. By giving your child the autonomy to make decisions around their participation in festive activities, you can decrease the stress and anxiety they might feel during this time.
Assuming Adults Roles
In the absence of a parent or guardian, grieving children may find themselves taking on roles traditionally held by adults. This could involve helping with meal preparations, managing household chores, or even providing emotional support to other family members. Such responsibilities can be overwhelming and emotionally draining.
A helpful way to manage this is to assign specific tasks to each family member. Breaking up the responsibilities can be done in a fun and exciting way, such as using visuals and sticker charts. It is also important to accept help from others if it is offered. Some children may also benefit from a family conversation addressing the reality that Christmas may look a bit different this year and it is okay to change traditions or customs.
Navigating Family Dynamics
Grieving families often undergo shifts in dynamics as they adapt to the loss. At Christmas, children may feel an increased sense of responsibility to keep the family together or mediate conflicts, adding an extra layer of stress to an already emotionally heightened environment.
Encourage your child to express their emotions openly and let them know it is okay to feel sad, angry, or confused during this time. It is helpful to set realistic expectations and help them manage their expectations around this time of year.
Holidays are often steeped in tradition, and grieving children may feel a keen responsibility to uphold these rituals in memory of their loved one that died. The pressure to continue traditions can be emotionally taxing, as children grapple with the desire to honour the past while coping with the reality of the present.
Help your child understand that traditions may change, at least temporarily. Support them in being flexible and open to creating new rituals that accommodate your family’s current needs.
The holiday season can be an emotionally difficult time for grieving children, particularly as they navigate increased responsibilities amidst the festivities. It is crucial for families, friends, and communities to recognise and address these challenges, offering support and understanding.
By fostering open communication, acknowledging the unique struggles of grieving children, and creating space for both remembrance and healing, we can help them navigate the holiday season with compassion and resilience.
If you need help guiding your grieving kids through Christmas – click here for tips to prepare grieving kids for the holiday season.
Also, self-care for parents is important during the holiday season – click here to read our guide to help you.