Klinger’s Korner: Kids, Grief, and the Holidays
Author: Andy McNiel
The holiday season is a magical time for children of all ages. It is during this time of year that children and teenagers have an extended break from school. They can be with friends and family in settings and doing activities that they may not be able to do other times of the year. At the same time, when children and teenagers are grieving, the holidays can be challenging as they navigate the celebrations and fun times while also reconciling their feelings of grief. We can help our children and teenagers traverse these challenges as we support them as family and friends.
What are some ideas of ways to support children during the holidays?
Be Honest and Validate Their Experiences
Be honest with your children if you are struggling with the holiday season. This will validate their experience if they are also having a hard time. Children are keen observers and probably already know anyway. We might say something like, “This year, the holidays are going to be difficult for me because I am going to miss (dad, mom, my brother, your uncle, my son, your brother, etc.), I wonder what it is like for you or what you are thinking about as the holidays are approaching.” When we are honest with our children and validate their experience, we build a foundation of trust that can sustain us through the most challenging times, and, in this case, better prepare you for the holidays together.
Make a Plan
You can also make a plan based on the needs of each of your family members. You may want to have a plan if you are at holiday events and find the need for you or one of your children to step away because of your grief. It can also be helpful to anticipate that different grief reactions may be a part of the holidays. This is another way you can validate your and your children’s feelings of grief and reframe expectations for the holidays. Mostly, give yourself and your children a pass on holiday events or celebrations as you may need. It is OK to work this into your plans for the holiday season.
Be Open to Change
Finally, it can be helpful to reframe our expectations of the holiday season by being open to change. Just as grief has changed our perspectives and brought much change to our lives, this can also be true for the holidays. We might keep some traditions that are meaningful to us. But, we might also find that some traditions no longer hold the same meaning as before. It is OK to make changes, do something different, or take a break from certain traditions to better accommodate your and your children’s needs. You can always return to past traditions in the future when you are all ready to do so.
Family Activity: Year-End Letter
This interactive activity offers your family a way to learn more about one another and spend quality time together, while doing the things you all love most.
- Notebook Paper or Typing Paper
- Pen, Pencil, or Colored Pencils
Writing is a great way to express your thoughts and feelings. This is also true for our grief. Quite often, there are things that we wish we could share with our person who died. Writing a “year-end” letter to your person is one way to express some of these sentiments you might have, update accomplishments, and express feelings of grief. Allow each family member to write their own letter. You can help younger children write a letter if they need ideas.
Here are some prompts you can use to help jump start your thoughts:
- I want you to know…
- If I could, I would…
- Something that happened recently is…
- I’m sorry…
- I worry…
- I am happy that/for…
- I wish…
- I miss…
- I am looking forward to…
Family Activity: Special Memories Together
- Pen and Paper
- Items to Create the Special Memory
Ask each person in the family to write a special memory they have of a past holiday, special meal, or activity that reminds them of your special person. Decide which meals or activities you might be able to incorporate into your holiday season to remember the special time you had with your person. You can spread these special gatherings, meals, or activities throughout the holiday season. This is a great way to acknowledge your grief while also sharing special moments together as a family.
Klinger, A Story of Honor and Hope
Based on Klinger, a real horse that serves in the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon in Arlington Cemetery, Betsy Beard’s Klinger is an endearing story written for TAPS honoring all of America’s beloved fallen heroes. The children’s book illustrates a young horse dreaming of fame as a racehorse, struggling to achieve his dreams, and then finding fulfillment in honoring fallen heroes and bringing comfort to their families. A journey of loss, grief, and hope, Klinger is a wonderful and helpful book for young children experiencing grief over the death of a military loved one. Learn more about the book Klinger, A Story of Honor and Hope.
TAPS Youth Programs
TAPS offers support programs for children and teenagers grieving the death of a military family member. Led by caring professionals in child development, grief support, mental health, and education, TAPS Youth Programs provide safe spaces for surviving military children to be supported in their grief while also experiencing fun, adventure, mentorship, and camaraderie. We invite you to visit TAPS Youth Programs to explore available TAPS Youth Programs events, including Good Grief Camps, Family Campouts, online groups, and online workshops.
Andy McNiel, MA, is the Senior Advisor, TAPS Youth Programs.