*Article originally published on Aha! Parenting
December is here, and your child is probably getting excited, no matter what holiday you celebrate. But with coronavirus cases on the rise across the U.S. and throughout the world, most of us will need to alter our holiday traditions this year. No airplane flights, no school plays or church concerts, no caroling, no Hanukkah or tree-trimming parties, no extended family gathering with hugs from grandparents and cousins running around together …. Everything will be different. And that’s a loss for all of us.
Children thrive on ritual. They look forward to the same traditions every year, celebrated in the same way. Now, on top of all the change and loss our kids have had to cope with during this year, many children will have a very different holiday than they’ve been looking forward to.
How can you keep your family safe and still make the holidays special this year?
1. Make room for grief.
Even if you haven’t lost anyone to Covid, it’s been a tough year all around. So before you speak with your child about changes in your holiday plans this year, notice and honor your own emotions about all this change and stress and loss. It’s fine to share your own sadness, but you want to be emotionally available to comfort your child, and you want to feel hopeful enough to communicate your belief that your family can still have a meaningful, fun and memorable holiday, even with everything so different.
When you talk with your child about what you expect the holidays to be like this year, don’t be surprised if your child reacts with sadness or anger. Empathize, acknowledge, commiserate. Honoring all those feelings will help your child work through them, which is the first step toward accepting the reality in which we find ourselves.
2. Brainstorm alternatives.
If your child won’t be able to see extended family, think outside the box about ways for your child to connect across the distance. For instance, instead of just settling for a zoom call during the holiday meal, you could:
- Ask the grandparents to read your child a special holiday story every night before bed.
- Make a video to send the grandparents, so they can share in the holiday preparations.
- Write a family holiday letter together to send to your community of friends and family.
- Help your child write “Appreciations” to go with each gift, as they help you wrap and pack presents to mail.
- Let each child dictate a letter saying how much they miss their loved ones.
- Work with your child to make simple, inexpensive, fun presents together for friends and cousins: homemade bubbles, finger paints, clay, dress-up boxes, jewelry-making kits, puppet-making kits, candy-making kits, snow globes.
- Take photos of your kids opening their presents so you can send those big-eyed expressions along with their thank you notes.
3. Get creative with new traditions.
A small holiday with your immediate family inevitably means that you lose the wonderful parts about a large family gathering. But it also gives you an opportunity for a more relaxed time together, and more intimacy. You have more control to tailor this holiday into whatever is best for you and for your child. Adding a new tradition sparks a little excitement, and gives you a fun way to connect and express your values. For instance, why not use the extra time to:
- Make an advent calendar with a good deeds your child can do each day.
- Make homemade doughnuts for Hanukkah.
- Have a bonfire to celebrate the Solstice.
- Spread pinecones with peanut butter and birdseed to feed the birds.
- Cut paper snowflakes and tape them to your windows and walls to lure a snow storm.
- Learn to ice skate together.
- Watch a different holiday movie every weekend during the season.
- Buy and wrap mittens and gloves for needy families.
- Take a ritual bath by candlelight, which is a traditional Yule custom. Add candles or glow sticks for extra fun.
- Start a Gratitude practice as a family. Noticing the things that we’re grateful for even when things are especially hard is like standing up in the face of the storm and declaring that life is worth living.
We’re all exhausted and ready to leave this year behind. It might feel hard to get excited about trying a new tradition, which can seem so small in the face of what we’ve lost.
But if we allow ourselves to grieve, and we find new ways to connect and express our love, and if we consciously choose a couple of new traditions to deepen the experience of our holidays, who knows? Maybe we can set a tone in our homes of peace and gratitude and harmony. And that’s what our children will remember when they look back on the close of this very tough year.
Dr. Laura Markham founded Aha! Parenting to support YOU to create a more peaceful home — and happy, responsible, considerate kids.
Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University, but she’s also a mom, so she understands kids — and parents! She uses her Ph.D. to translate proven science and child-development research into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.
Dr. Laura Markham is the author of three best-selling books:
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life
- The Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids WORKBOOK
The founding editor of AhaParenting.com, Dr. Laura Markham makes frequent TV and radio appearances and has been interviewed for thousands of articles by publications as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Real Simple, Newsday, Men’s Health, Redbook and Parents Magazine. 150,000 parents subscribe to her weekly Parenting Tips, which you can sign up for here.