The holidays can be a special season for families, they are often filled with holiday foods, decorations, celebrations, and traditions – all of which have the general aim of creating memories and bringing families closer together. But because of the pandemic some special traditions may need to be altered, postponed, or even cancelled – causing many children, parents, and families to experience some kind of loss. Nevertheless, parents’ desires to provide a happy holiday for their family is likely not extinguished. But with so many difficult and complex feelings and events, what can parents do to help foster a positive and happy holiday season?
Acknowledge, process, and mourn
Sadness, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness – none of these emotions feel good and most everyone does their best to avoid such painful feelings. While feelings like these are sometimes unavoidable, they are appropriate, normal, and healthy responses to when bad things happen in life – like COVID-19. But even though we have no control over the virus or its ramifications – it is important to acknowledge, process, and mourn the losses caused by it.
While parents have acquired the maturity to process such unpleasant emotions – children are still learning. From toddlerhood through adolescence, children are actively learning how to navigate complex and troubling emotions. And while adults are able to express themselves verbally, children, instead more often, act out or use behavior to express their emotions. Depending on the age of your child the behavior may look different. For example, a two-year-old may express himself by crying or screaming when told he cannot light the menorah, but a 16-year-old may slam a door when asked to help decorate the Christmas tree. It’s important to not take such behavior personally.
In the past year-and-a-half children have experienced many losses and therefore may not be able to respond how parents hope to holiday activities. While this may be disappointing or frustrating, keeping the long-term view of your child’s development is integral. To help children learn how to manage their feelings, parents should allow children the freedom to express their emotions in whatever fashion they need and in their own time frame. When parents offer patience and kindness in response to stomping feet or tears, it not only helps children move past those troubling emotions, but it aids in their maturation and development to handle these emotions as they grow into adults. Punishing, avoiding, or dismissing feelings makes children feel worse and prolongs those feelings or causes the emotions to evolve from one behavior into another. Worse yet, it prevents children from learning healthy ways to respond to those uncomfortable feelings as adults. So instead, if children are acting out, reflect what you are seeing. This will help children open up and use their words to express themselves, which is the goal. In a kind and caring tone, it may sound something like:
‘I heard it when you slammed your door. Are you feeling upset?’
‘You seem annoyed, did something happen?’
‘I see you are upset, I’m here to offer a hug or cuddle if you would like.’
As Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D. and William J. Pieper, M.D. explain in Smart Love, “The way to provide your child with the moral education that will help him become an adult who can tolerate fru