Helping Youth During an Unexpected Holiday Season

As we near the end of a year filled with unexpected challenges, the holiday season has arrived. For many, the holidays are typically a time of celebration and cheer, in large part because of the ability to spend time with those we love. Children especially embody the excitement of the season, often counting down the days to their favorite holiday. But, let’s face it, this year is different and they will feel it. We all do.

Fortunately, we as parents, guardians, and trusted adults, can help children navigate celebrating the holidays in midst of the pandemic. We can help them cope with the possibility of celebrating the holidays without important loved ones who live outside the home, as well as continued changes with schooling and routine.

How do we start? By listening.

“Listen to a child’s concerns and validate the feelings associated with them,” Elizabeth Block, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea said.  “Acknowledge that yes, this year is going to be different, and it’s okay to feel sad or disappointed. However, different does not have to mean ‘all bad.’ This is a great opportunity to promote resiliency in youth by teaching that it’s okay to acknowledge the loss of something, but also a chance to make the best of a tough situation.

Here’s some ideas for families to make this holiday season special:

  • Let each family member pick an activity that they enjoy for the holiday and everyone in the household participate
  • Emphasize that distance doesn’t need to stop us from showing other we care. Take time to create something special such as a homemade card or a video to send to loved ones you can’t gather with this year.
  • Find ways to show kindness to others – make cards for nursing home residents, support elderly neighbors with grocery shopping or snow shoveling, leave a note for a delivery driver or create messages for front-liner workers. Be creative!
  • Create an imaginary vacation where you provide special foods, virtual tours, books, arts and crafts that are representative of dream vacations.
  • Take decorating your home to a new extreme. Let your family make holiday decorations and help decide where they go. Create a holiday wonderland right inside your home.
  • Find the best holiday light decorations in your neighborhood and go for a tour. Bring along favorite snacks and play holiday music.

Finally, take care of YOURSELF. This has been a stressful year. Make time to relax, meditate, or go for a walk.

Even if you create new traditions and ways to enjoy the holidays, children may experience ongoing anxiety about the pandemic. Per the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about COVID-19 should be evaluated by a trained mental health professional. Signs that a child may need additional help include:

  • Difficulty with sleep or new changes to sleep patterns, like nightmares or frequent waking
  • Thoughts that are frightening or disruptive
  • Frequent talk or worries about illness or death
  • Reluctance to leave parents or go to school

If you have noticed such changes in your child, you can ask their doctor or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.

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