If you have to talk to your children about the fact that this year’s holiday traditions won’t be the same as they used to be in the past due to COVID-19 or an in-progress divorce, it’s can be hard to know what to say to them. The appropriate approach largely depends on your child’s age. Disappointment is easier on the very young (a toddler) as opposed to a teenager who has learned to process disappointment, hardship, or rejection over their relatively short life span.
What is most important is knowing your child and how he/she works through difficult events. Perhaps while breaking disappointing news in your own family, you have noticed that one child acts out while another withdraws. The important thing is to ponder how to talk to each of them and how to get them to talk to you about his/her thoughts and feelings.
How you break bad news requires a good measure of thought beforehand. The way we have been made to live since the pandemic started in 2020 – making substantial and abrupt adjustments constantly – is annoying, disruptive, and for many, downright scary. Children need consistency. They need to feel safe. They also need parents who can guide them through uncertain times. Having to explain to them that they won’t enjoy the same holiday traditions they once did may be difficult, but with the right approach, it can be done successfully. Seeing relatives and friends in a festive environment is something all children typically look forward to, so how do you tell them what they need to hear? You need the right words and finesse to do the job. Below are a handful of suggestions for having that difficult conversation with them.
Tips on Explaining How Holiday Traditions Will Be Different This Year
For Children 0-3 Years Old
Spend time together and make things fun. They have little to no memories of past holidays, so you don’t need to explain how things are going to be “different” this year. These kids just need to feel love, attention, and affection from their parents.
For Children 4-6 Years Old
Establish holiday traditions now that you can do with your family, like cooking together, decorating the house, or writing cards or letters. Remember: if they feel sad, don’t punish them. They are allowed to have whatever feelings they have. Do find the positive and teach them how to find the silver lining within the dark cloud.
For Children 6-12 Years Old
You are going to need to explain that the precautions the family is taking are necessary because of the “spreadability” of COVID-19. Validate any sad/angry feelings they may have, but turn it around and ask them to think up some new things that the family could do together to make the holiday special.
Ask them how they are feeling. But then, just listen – don’t jump in with solutions when they may not have gotten to the root of the issue yet. (In fact, they might not be aware of what’s driving their thoughts and behaviors until they start talking to a sympathetic listener.) Often, teens just want someone to really listen to them and validate their feelings – not to try to solve their problems. Offer perspective on the situation by taking the bigger view of the problem and by having them weigh their own disappointment with other people’s similar or perhaps “bigger” disappointments.
Whatever the age of your children, most of all, let them know their feelings count. Let them know you’re listening. Most of all, let them that they are loved and that next year will likely be better.