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About John Kennedy Saynor

Helping Children Cope with the Holidays

by John Kennedy Saynor

daisiesChildren are often referred to as the “forgotten mourners.” As the holiday season approaches adults in the family may forget that the children in the family are also ambivalent about the holidays. They have learned not to upset their parents and so they withdraw and don’t ask any questions. They just hope things will turn out fine and that they will have a good Christmas.

There are many factors that hinder children in their grieving process. One of the difficulties children have in dealing with their grief is that they are often discouraged from expressing grief.

Since the grief of a child increases the pain adults are feeling, adults often avoid talking with children about their feelings. Another difficulty arises from the fact that adults do not understand how a child grieves.

The following are some ideas about helping children deal with the holiday season:

  1. Include children in any discussion about the holidays. It is a time of great insecurity for them and they need the security and support of the family. Let them know in advance that Christmas is going to be celebrated and give them some idea of what the possibilities are.
  2. Ask the children what they would like to have happen on Christmas Day. Ask them what they want and what they don’t want. It is best to know ahead of time what is going to happen rather than approach the day without any plans.
  3. Get the children’s ideas about an appropriate gift or donation in memory of a loved one. Make them part of the process. Children may also like the idea of putting a new decoration on the tree in memory of the one who has died. Let them choose it. They may also like the idea of a special candle that would burn in memory of the one who has died. Let them buy it!
  4. Give the children a break from the family. If they need to spend part of their Christmas holidays with their friends, let them.
  5. Encourage children to talk about the one who has died. This can be a painful experience, but it can prove helpful in allowing them to express their feelings.

Remember, the message of Christmas is one of hope. Christmas can be a good opportunity for the entire family to learn that life still has meaning after there is a death. There is a lot of good left in the family. The memory of the one who has died is often an impetus for the family to get together and celebrate even though the celebration will be different from what it has ever been.