The past year has brought a significant amount of change to daily life for children and families due to COVID-19. Time and again, parents have navigated difficult conversations with their children that they may have felt unprepared for. As the holidays approach, parents find themselves once again faced with having another hard discussion about why family celebrations and events are being canceled or scaled back.
As we navigate the holidays during the pandemic and cope with the loss of holiday traditions and continued social isolation, it is important to recognize that your child may be experiencing increased stress, anxiety or symptoms of depression.
The three Ws — wearing a mask, watching your distance and washing your hands — are critical to you and your family’s health and should be followed as you consider making holiday plans. My colleague, Frank Zhu, MD, wrote a blog with guidelines for how to celebrate safely. You can read it here.
Here is some helpful information about how parents can help their kids with the emotional and social side of celebrating the holidays during a pandemic
Begin talking to your child about how you anticipate the holidays will be different as soon as possible. Uncertainty can be difficult for children to cope with so try to commit to a holiday plan soon, rather than waiting to see if the pandemic gets better. This is especially important for kids who may experience anxiety and need more time to adjust to changes in their routines. Not talking about it may only increase anxiety.
Keep it simple. Try to explain the changes that are occurring to your child using language that they can understand. Provide your child with time to talk and share their feelings.
Your kids will have questions. Listen to them. Answer them honestly, but don’t worry if you don’t have all of the answers right then. It’s important to let your kids know what they are feeling is okay. Normalizing how they feel helps ensure they don’t feel alone.
Let your child know it is okay to feel disappointed, sad or angry as they try to make sense of and cope with the disruption that COVID-19 continues to bring. It is important to validate your child’s feelings and provide them with reassurance. Try not to minimize how your child feels by telling them to not be upset. Parents may say something like, “I know you are disappointed that we can’t go to the party but this is the decision that we have made to keep our family safe.” Parents, you can be honest and let them know you’re disappointed too.
As you think of ways to safely celebrate the holidays, you may want to incorporate new traditions or update old traditions to be COVID-19 safe. While parents may feel they need to come up with the ideas, children can feel empowered by helping to provide ideas about how they hope to celebrate the holidays. Ask your child for their ideas! Perhaps, they can decorate their rooms or bake cookies to send to friends and family.
So much of what’s special about the holidays is gatherings with friends and families. While those gatherings will be put on hold for this year, don’t let that stop you from gathering virtually. Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or even a good old fashioned phone call to connect during the holidays this year can help get through this scaled back holiday season. Virtually connecting can help you and your kids feel less isolated.
Come up with ideas for these virtual gatherings. Do you play games during the holidays with your family? Get creative about games you can play via Zoom. Maybe do a cousin sing-a-long. Try a virtual cookie exchange by making cookies and sending them off to friends and families.
Staying on top of our mental well-being, in addition to our physical safety and well-being, will help us get through these trying times. If you feel your child needs help managing his or her mental health, your child’s primary care provider can be a good place to start the conversation and resource for mental health care provider.