Guest Author: Suzy Yehl Marta, president and founder of Rainbows For All Children (www.rainbows.org).
Forget Normal Rockwell. In many of today’s families there will be an empty chair at the holiday table. Dad – or Mom – is fighting in Iraq. A sibling was killed in a car crash. A favorite aunt and uncle recently divorced. Grandmother is in a nursing home. Holidays can be a challenging time for grieving families, especially for children. What is meant to be a cheerful time for most is the hardest for those missing a loved one. Traditions and memories are hard to forget and joy can be hard to remember. Here are a few tips on how to help your children cope through their grief during the holidays.
- Plan the holiday celebration – don’t just let it happen. Sometimes “no shows” might occur by loved ones who are not ready to face the pain.
- Identify the difficult moments in the upcoming season. Before the family gathers, establish ground rules that prohibit certain actions such as taking sides or verbal bashing of any family members.
- Be conscious of your feelings. Often times, it is difficult for a child to express his or her feelings right away. Share what you’re feeling with them and establish a safety net for open communication.
- Be realistic about your capabilities. Explain your choices and actions to your children. They might not completely accept every decision you make, but they will understand.
- Accept your limitations. A parent also needs time to grieve and holidays will bring back painful memories.
- Trim down to essentials – build in flexibility. The time you spend on activities with your children will outweigh any present that they receive.
- As a family, discuss old and new traditions – make some changes. Healthy families change. New traditions rekindle a sense of commitment.
- Acknowledge your loss – talk to family and friends. Take time to talk about the person who is absent. Ask the children how they feel, listen to what they say, encourage positive reminiscences.
- Live in the moment. Be grateful for the family that you do have and are able to spend the holiday with. Life is unexpected, so don’t worry about the future and do your best to control what you can.