Helping Kids Understand A Socially Distanced Holiday Season

When people who love each other can’t be together, it’s heartbreaking. And when a child is too young to understand a prolonged cut-off from a beloved relative or friend, everyone hurts.

However, the pandemic — particularly the upcoming holidays — actually is an opportunity to speak frankly with your young children about the big emotions they feel.

Consider the following as you help young children manage their emotional reactions and guide them through the challenges your family will face during the holiday season.

1. Talk to children so they can understand 

As you engage in these conversations, keep in mind your child’s age and development stage. Make sure you use words they understand and help them to identify their emotions. For example, you might say, “It’s frustrating when we can’t get together with friends during the holidays.” Or “It’s disappointing that we can’t have our annual visit with cousins this year.” Or “I know you feel sad because you can’t see grandma this Thanksgiving.”

2. Validate emotions

Allow your child to lead the discussion, validate his or her emotions, and show empathy. You might share some of your feelings with your children, too. For example, you might say, “I miss grandma, and I feel sad when I can’t see her, too.”

3. Welcome a child’s questions 

Encourage your children to ask questions about this year’s holidays and the ongoing pandemic. You want to make them feel heard and reassure them that their feelings matter.

4. Answer difficult questions

If you don’t have answers, say so. It’s important for your children to learn how to tolerate uncertainty. These conversations help your children to reduce anxiety and build resilience.

Fern Schumer Chapman
Fern Schumer Chapman
Chicago-based writer Fern Schumer Chapman has written several award-winning books. Her memoir, Motherland, is a popular choice for book clubs. Her latest picture book, Happy Harper Thursdays: A Grandmother's Love for Her Granddaughter during the Coronavirus, explains family separation to children. Her other works, Is It Night or Day?, Like Finding My Twin, Stumbling on History, and Three Stars in the Night Sky are used in middle and high school classrooms.

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