Grieving children experience conflicting emotions during the holiday season. Excitement about presents and parties are coupled with the sadness of knowing they cannot share these special traditions with their deceased loved one.
"Family traditions may have changed since the death. It may seem like nothing is the same as it used to be or everything is the same, except that their special person is missing," said Diane Snyder Cowan, Director of Hospice of the Western Reserve's Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center.
Snyder Cowan said children are sometimes called "the forgotten grievers." While adults may be consumed by their own feelings of sorrow and loss following the death of a loved one, they should also be aware of the special needs of children, who may withdraw or try to mask their feelings. "They lack the experience of adults in coping with the powerful - and sometimes unpredictable – mood swings and emotions that are a normal part of the grieving and healing process. They need extra support and guidance," she said.
She offered the following tips to help children manage grief during the holidays:
- Gently reassure them that it's okay to talk about and express feelings to someone they trust.
- Encourage them to ask for comfort and hugs.
- Provide a journal or notebook and encourage them to write down or draw feelings, thoughts and memories. This can be in a journal or letter to the person who died.
- Light a candle and encourage your child to surround it with photos in memory of their loved one.
- If your teen enjoys cooking, suggest preparing their loved one's favorite dish for the holiday dinner table as a way to remember and honor their memory.
- Suggest volunteering or making a charitable donation to an organization that was meaningful to the loved one such as a local nature center or food pantry.
"The holidays are very difficult for those who are grieving," Snyder Cowan said. "Working together as a family to plan ahead and meet each person's needs and wants is always helpful. It's okay to set limits and to say 'no' to some things. It's good - and normal - to laugh and love as well as cry and remember."
The Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center offers an extensive range of grief support services and tools available to anyone in the community, including one-on-one counseling, free grief support groups, videos, a parents' tool kit, online grief discussion groups and more.