4 Tips for Handling the Holidays with Grieving Children

Author: Diana Wright

Child decorating Christmas tree

Whether it is the first or the 10th year since your loved one’s death, facing the holidays can be stressful. We know the holidays will never be the same, but there are things you can do to make them a little more bearable for both you and your child.

1. Make a plan.

Carefully consider invites and festive functions; check in with yourself to see if it is truly something you can and want to do. Make sure your plans are with those who truly understand and won’t take offense if you choose to leave early or even cancel at the last minute. Be selective and pick just a few functions. Put them on your calendar and stick to your decisions.

2. Make a tradition.

If past family traditions are too painful, make new ones. As a family, you can go shopping, buy a tree, prepare a meal or serve a family in need, veterans, deployed service members or someone else who would appreciate your efforts.

During one particularly hard Christmas, my son and I went shopping and bought a small tree and decorations for two veterans in a nursing home. We had so much fun listening to music and decorating their room with them that we forgot about our own sorrows, even if it was for a few hours. The joy provided to these two men ultimately became a healing gift for us and became a legacy of service we continued.

3. Talk to your children.

As the adult, you may feel it’s your responsibility to keep things the way they have always been for your children, but that may not be what they want. They may need permission to pass on holiday functions and have a quiet holiday; they may want a change of scenery. They may want the holidays to be just the way they always were. Ask your children what they want to do and create a plan that’s reasonable, but considers their wishes too.

In the initial years following her husband’s death, a friend shared that her kids didn’t want all of the trappings of a large holiday meal. So, they started eating their favorite dishes. As the years progressed, they started hanging their dad’s stocking again. They made a new tradition of writing notes to him that were placed in his stocking. In talking with her children, she was able to give them what they needed and make it easier on herself. This open communication led to a healthy family tradition of including their father and maintaining a connection.

4. Be kind to yourself.

Give yourself permission to be human. For some, this may mean saying “no” to a gathering, or simply planning a day just for you - doing what you need and not what the world may think you need.

From the pen of…
Diana Wright became part of the TAPS family in 2011 as a mentor for Good Grief Camp and has been on staff since 2014. She is a Ph.D. candidate and is currently working on her dissertation that addresses the systematic challenges that spouses face as a result of the death of their service member.