December 8, 2020

Helping Kids Cope with Loss at the Holidays

By Tracy Hart and Charity Apple

We expect the holidays to be a magical and happy time. This year, the holiday season may be challenging because of the many aspects of loss and separation caused by COVID-19. Families who were already grieving a loved one before the pandemic may find it especially stressful to navigate holiday expectations.

Here are some tips for supporting your child through loss this holiday season:

Communicate openly about changes

Talk about how this holiday season will be different. If a family tradition associated with the person who died feels too painful this year, it’s OK to create a new tradition instead. Invite your child to share their own suggestions for new ways to celebrate that are COVID-19 safe. A number of holiday light displays are being held outside, in socially distanced and/or drive-thru atmospheres – maybe this could become a new family tradition. Consider helping others in some way, such as donating food to area food banks (since there is a greater need this year). Or “adopt” a family and contribute gift cards to cut down on the social interaction inside department stores.

Find ways to honor loved ones

Work together to decide on a new tradition to honor the person who has died. Some families may choose to leave an empty chair at the table, decorate a special placemat with messages to their special person, or hang a stocking filled with messages or memories. You may decide it feels appropriate to light a candle at the dinner table to show how your love for that person shines bright. Honor how you feel this holiday season – there’s no right or wrong way to navigate this.

Coping in the virtual classroom

For many children and teens, one difficult aspect of the pandemic is the separation from friends and classmates due to remote learning. It is also important to be sensitive to any assignments that may deal with the holidays, such as writing stories or drawing pictures about traditions. Talk with your child about how they are feeling about the loss. You could encourage them to write their feelings down. It can be helpful to alert your child’s teachers about the impact of grief this holiday season.

Talk with a Kids Path Counselor

Kids Path offers free phone consultations about how to help children and teens cope with death or severe illness. Call 336-621-2500 (Greensboro) or 336-532-0100 (Burlington) and ask to be connected with a Kids Path counselor.

Tracy Hart, LCMHC, is a children’s counselor on the Greensboro campus. Charity Apple is Communications and Digital Content Specialist on the Burlington campus.