The following tips are from Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
We know that many parents are going to be working overtime this year to find new ways to recreate the holidays to not lose the magic of the season. We know you want to keep the sparkle in your kids’ eyes, to keep them engaged and connected. With the support of our network of child and youth mental health experts, we have rounded up some tips and ideas to help your family support your child’s mental health and manage the holidays in a pandemic.
Prioritize mental health in the holidays
Even in a typical year, the holidays can be an especially challenging time of year for many families. Expectations of the holidays can be hard on children– and, let’s face it, it’s not ‘the happiest time’ for all of us. When you prioritize your or your child’s mental wellness, you can focus on what works for your family. As a parent, consider the things that feel realistic for you to do and then offer those choices to kids/youth to pick from. So many of us struggle with saying no over the holidays – perhaps this year, you will feel confident about not over-committing your schedule and slowing things down; and that’s ok! Also, keep in mind that having time to connect with each other is important, but so, too, is having space for everyone to have their own personal time.
Routines and predictability are often beneficial (within reason) for children and youth with mental health challenges. It’s a good time to start having conversations with children about what the holidays may look like so that they understand things will be different this year and they know what to expect. This also allows them to be a part of the new planning process. What is important to them? Is there something new they would like to try? Planning early also gives us time to let other relatives or friends know in advance to manage their expectations, too. Also, consider connecting with the parents of your children’s friend to arrange days before or after the holidays for playdates, either virtually or in-person/outdoors, depending on local public health advice. This can include coming up with a list of outdoor winter activities.
Focus on What’s in Your Control
While we are all doing our part to manage the pandemic, so much of what is happening in the province – and the world – is out of our control right now. This is a good time to focus on the things that are in your control. When it comes to traditions of the holiday season, consider how you can incorporate the traditions, or at least parts of those traditions, that are most important to your family. What are some of the things your family can do to bring a little holiday magic into your home? It could be a simple thing like baking cookies, preparing a special family recipe, or planning for a holiday nature walk as a way to get outdoors and move. If seeing family is important to you, consider the ways you can do that, for example, setting up Zoom while your different households have a special meal. It won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.
For a lot of us, we are going to need to accept that the holidays just won’t be what they usually are. That will be disappointing for a lot of children (and parents!) It’s important to acknowledge that disappointment, especially for children. Give kids a safe space to share their feelings and be heard; let them know this is hard for you, too. Reminding your kids – and yourself – that this is a temporary measure in a very unusual time may make it all feel a little less daunting
Supporting children through grief.
The holidays can be especially hard for families who are grieving. Remembering your loved one, telling stories, and laughing about good times together are all ok to do, and can provide comfort to your child. You might work together to come up with ideas for memorializing your loved one over the holiday. Remember that it’s okay for your child/youth to feel upset as there have been a lot of different types of loss this year.
Take Care of You
The holidays can be a stressful and anxious time for parents, too. Make sure that you are eating, sleeping and enjoying the holidays as well. Maintain healthy boundaries. Take time when you need it, don’t feel guilty saying no when you need to. Do what is best for you and your family. Consider planning a day where the family could play a game or watch a movie together. But don’t forget to have some scheduled time where kids can play games and parents can take some time out as well.
Don’t Underestimate Your Family’s Resilience
Resilience is about bouncing back from challenges, rather than not having any challenges at all. Look back on your year. What are some of the things you and your family have done to get through this? What is working? What doesn’t work? How have you changed as a parent? Your kids are watching you model behaviour and your resilience is teaching them. Notice what works for your family – and remember that this will look different for each family.