Children, Grief and the Holidays

The holidays are a difficult time for anyone who has experienced a loss. Children, who grow up thinking of the holidays as a magical and happy time, may have particular difficulty reconciling the grief of a recent loss with the joy of the holiday season.

Depending on the child’s relationship with their loved one who has died, this year might mean a change in holiday traditions or special rituals. Maybe Grandma always let them help make the pumpkin pie, or their aunt read them The Night before Christmas.

How you support a child through the holidays after a loss depends on your relationship. Below are some suggestions for how to comfort grieving children during the holidays.

In the classroom

If you know that a student has recently experienced the death of a loved one, make time to speak with them about their feelings about the upcoming holiday season. In addition, speaking with the child’s parents or guardians to find out what might be upsetting for them during holiday activities empowers you to make accommodations if necessary.

For example, if you were planning to have your class draw a picture of their favorite holiday tradition, but you know that this will be painful for the grieving child, you could have the class draw a picture of their favorite winter activity instead. This kind of simple, sensitive adjustment can help a grieving child better navigate a difficult time.

At home

Make time to sit down as a family and talk through your plans for the holiday season. Make sure that your child’s feelings are heard and that you take their wishes into consideration when making decisions.  Remember that it’s OK to change or leave out a tradition to make this difficult time less emotionally taxing. If certain foods or rituals are too painful for your family, consider skipping them this year. You can always choose to revisit them in the future.

It can also be helpful to create a new tradition to honor the person who has died. For example, your family might hang a stocking for that person and fill it with special messages and happy memories, or light a candle at a shared meal to represent the legacy of that person.

Talk with a Kids Path Counselor

Children’s counselors at Kids Path are available to consult with anyone in the community about supporting a grieving child during the holidays. You can talk with a licensed counselor by phone during weekday business hours by calling Kids Path at 336.544.5437 and asking to speak with a counselor.