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Supporting Grieving Children Through the Holidays

The holidays can be very difficult for grieving children, especially during the first year of the loss of their loved one. No matter what the specific holiday is, one major quality is celebrating it with one’s family in the traditions that the family has created over the years. Because of this, holidays can be both a reminder of the loss of one’s loved one as well as reminders of special, pleasant memories shared with that person. This can be a painful time for children as they watch others enjoy the holidays while at the same time experiencing a feeling of longing for their loved one. Often the anticipation for the holiday can be worse than the special day itself.

What can parents and others who love these children do to help?

It is helpful to let grieving children know that they may feel some painful feelings during the holidays and that this is normal. Encourage them to tell you about them. Plan ahead activities and new rituals that can add creativity and fun to an otherwise hard situation. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Draw pictures or make cards of favorite holiday memories with the deceased.
  • Create a special ornament to hang on the tree or doorway.
  • Write a holiday letter to the deceased and place it in a special place, either wrapped as a present under the tree or tied with a bow and placed next to their picture.
  • Place a picture of the deceased at the dinner table with a candle so they are part of the holiday feast.
  • Cook a favorite dish or dessert the deceased especially enjoyed.
  • Create a “gratitude bowl,” where family members can share holiday memories of their loved one for which they will always be thankful for on colorful slips of paper. These can be read aloud during a special time during the holidays.

These activities are powerful and healing because they allow the child to mourn while at the same time giving permission to enjoy the holidays.

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