Supporting Grieving Children During the Holidays

By Lauren Schneider

’Tis the season to be merry, but for grievers dealing with the death of a family member or friend, the holidays are fraught with emotions, and decision making may be complicated. There are memories of holidays past and concerns about how to spend the holidays this year. Images in the media of family togetherness abound and may set up expectations that are difficult for grievers to achieve.

This time of year, it is more important than ever to include grieving children in decision-making conversations. Too many children are disappointed when favorite holiday traditions are skipped by adults who are preoccupied with their own grief. Encourage the children to voice their opinions about what they need in order to enjoy the holidays in the absence of their loved one who died. Decide together what traditions you can manage this year and what can be revisited in the future.

Holiday preparations and celebrations offer a much-needed distraction and gatherings of friends and family reduce the isolation that grieving children experience at school or in other groupings of non-bereaved peers.

Comfort them when they yearn for their loved one and the way things were before the death. Encourage them to enjoy the holidays without feeling guilty, reminding them that the person who died would want them to experience the joys of childhood in their absence.

Here are some suggestions, keeping in mind that different choices can be made again next year:

  • Create new traditions or meaningful rituals to enrich this year’s celebrations and let go of those that no longer feel right.
  • Hang treasured decorations from bygone days or design new ones featuring an image of your loved one.
  • Invite the children to make a toast in memory of your loved one.
  • Prepare food that your loved one enjoyed.
  • Express gratitude for the ways in which your lives were enriched because of your loved one and for the ways the love lives on.
  • Involve your children in volunteer work that would be meaningful to your loved one and helps them appreciate their lives in spite of their loss.
  • Serve as a role model for your children that it is okay to cry when you need to cry, laugh when you feel like it, ask for hugs, and get plenty of rest.

Lauren Schneider is the Clinical Director of Child and Adolescent Programs at OUR HOUSE and is a nationally recognized authority on children’s grief. She has provided trainings for mental health clinicians, educators, clergy, school personnel, and graduate students throughout the Los Angeles community since 2000. She is the creator of My Memory Book for Grieving Children and author of Children Grieve Too: A Handbook for Parents of Grieving Children.