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How to help kids deal with a loss during the holidays

Whether it's a death in the family or a divorce, here are tips for parents to help kids deal with a loss during the holiday season.


Even before Thanksgiving arrives, the rush of the holiday season begins with stores filled with decorations, lights, and cheer. But, if you've recently experienced a loss, you might not be filled with holiday spirit this year.

Loss can take many forms. It could be the death of a loved one, such as a mother or grandma, the family's matriarch who pulled everyone together for a Thanksgiving feast. It may include the loss of a beloved pet, who was treated like a treasured family member. Loss can also include a divorce or move that has taken you away from friendships, support systems, and annual holiday traditions. Any big change often results in secondary losses such as financial stress or less time together, making the holiday season an even greater challenge—particularly as we live in a culture focused on material possessions.

How can parents help kids get through tough times this holiday season?

Start planning now. While parents may feel the dread themselves, everyone will feel better once a plan of action is in place. This may mean a quiet Thanksgiving dinner trying new recipes, or a new tradition with friends. Kids and parents alike feel comforted when we know what to expect. In the case of divorce, figure out early where kids will be spending holidays so they can prepare.

Create new traditions. Trying to recreate an old feeling without a loved one may make the loss feel greater. Instead, create new traditions such as a pajama party or skip dinner altogether and have a huge brunch. Here are some ideas for a pumpkin-themed brunch.

Rituals. After the death of a loved one, creating a ritual in their honor may help alleviate some of the pain of missing them during the holidays. Light a memory candle or visit their grave site and leave a holiday wreath. Make their favorite meal or dessert, sing their favorite holiday song, or watch their favorite movie.

Practice gratitude. While it is easy to get caught up in materialism, teach your child to be grateful for the gifts they do have. Gratitude gets easier once practiced, so state what you are each thankful for each night throughout November or create a gratitude jar. It is fun to watch the gratitude pile up!

Talk about it. Don't assume your child is OK, make sure to ask them. Also, don't assume they will struggle. Kids are resilient and many will be OK and just need permission to feel joyful despite a significant loss. Some kids want to protect a parent from their own pain as they realize their parent is already hurting. They don't want to be a burden. Open up the conversation and let kids know you are willing to talk and more importantly, to listen, even if what they say may feel hurtful. Normalize all of their feeling as a grief response to loss may look different for each child.

Make the most of your time together. Making ends meet after a death or divorce can be a challenge and may mean less time together as a family, so it can make all the difference to set aside moments for quality time. Ultimately, relationships mean more than material possessions: take a walk together, bake cookies, volunteer to help those less fortunate, or make crafts such as ornaments or dreidels using simple materials.

Using these tips that focus on building our relationships, practicing gratitude, and focusing on the positive can help the holiday spirit return.