Talk to Your Kids About the Unwanted Guest This HOLIDAY
Helping your kids cope with loneliness, especially during the holiday season.
Posted Nov 30, 2020
Talk With Your Kids About the Unwanted Guest During the Holidays
How to help your kids cope with loneliness this holiday season.
By: Nancy Kislin, LCSW, MFT
COVID-19 mandates socially distancing and limited interaction with friends and family. As we approach the holiday season, COVID restrictions take a toll on our mental, emotional, and physical health and create new challenges for us as parents.
Many parents are fighting their own feelings of isolation, loneliness, frustration, anxiety, and a variety of other issues. For many, it’s a struggle to get through the day of negotiating work from home, taking care of our children, and navigating our kids’ school schedules.
Children are particularly impacted by feelings of loneliness. Children need socialization with other children to help them learn how to create separate relationships with their peers, and develop their language and communication skills. The latest research indicates that children as young as 3 to 6 years old are showing signs of anxiety and depression. Key changes in behavior including clinginess, sleep disturbance, impatience, and moodiness can be signs that your child is struggling because of isolation.
It seems to be especially difficult for many parents to create and enforce healthy boundaries for their kids. Whether the issue is too much screen time, not having a reasonable bedtime, not eating at traditional mealtimes, or staying in bed all day—parents are tired. I get it. This is very hard. The following tips can help you in the days to come. Kids are resilient but they need their parents to talk openly and frequently about what is happening in their lives and to acknowledge the difficulty of living through a pandemic.
I always start with you, the parent—please schedule time for yourself to focus on your physical and mental self-care. It is easy to go on auto-pilot and consume too much caffeine, sugar, and alcohol in addition to not moving your body enough. It is tempting and even feels helpful in the short-term. The problem is that too much of anything without creating balance in the body puts additional stress on our adrenals, making us more vulnerable to illness while distracting you from being there for your children when they need us the most.
Strategies for the Holiday Season
- Talk with your kids about how this holiday season is going to be different.
- Don’t assume they don’t want to talk to you.
- Don’t deliver long-winded monologues.
- Don’t get frustrated when they don’t share every feeling you think they must be experiencing. Be patient and listen.
- Do monitor your voice and your anxiety.
- Talking to kids is an ongoing process and demands willpower, love, and curiosity.
Always be honest. Yes, these are really tough days for most people. Be vulnerable and share how you are feeling. “I am really going to miss having your grandparents with us this Christmas. Let’s think of some special things we can do to help make their Christmas a little happier.”
Be careful not to share too much or dump all your issues onto your child. The goal is to open up communication and make your children feel like they can be equally honest with you. Explain that the holidays are going to be different this year due to COVID-19, such as not having travel plans and not seeing family and friends. Remind them we are doing this for everyone’s safety. Talk about who you are going to see, why that is safe, and who you are not going to visit.
Look for the silver lining. Express gratitude. What things are we grateful for this year? What special things can you do to celebrate the holiday season? A few suggested activities include: making a list of all the things you and your family have to be grateful for this year. Talk about the charities you want to contribute to. Create homemade gifts for loved ones and friends. Perform and record a song to share. Make craft projects. Bake holiday goodies and share with neighbors. Enlist the help of friends to create cards and send them to seniors at local nursing homes or those who are at home alone—local churches and synagogues usually have lists of names of people in need of a call or mail.
Put down your technology and be available for your kids. They need you more than ever. Create new rituals that are phone-free, such as having game and movie night. Let them know you are available both physically and mentally.
Establish simple routines and boundaries for your kids to follow. This helps children feel safe and protected. Sit down as a family to discuss how things are going to be—include how much time kids are allowed to spend on screens, what their bedtime will be, how much money can be spent on gifts, etc. The more you discuss, the less that is left to their imagination, which allows for less anxiety.
Be careful with your language. Rather than saying “things will never get better,” say: “Right now things feel really hopeless but I know we will get through this.”
It is important for your children to have private time to think and sit with their feelings. Remind them it is normal to feel sad and angry, but that you assist them in not staying in this gloomy place for too long.
Set expectations that every member of the family must go outside at least once a day. Encourage exercise several times per week.
Schedule family outings and activities, such as taking a walk or hiking in a park, cooking a new recipe, asking grandparents for their favorite recipes, scheduling Zoom calls with relatives and friends, starting a movie or book club with friends/relatives, and starting or revisiting hobbies. (I know this may take extra energy, effort, and convincing your children but trust me—it will be worth it.)
Don’t be afraid to get professional help for yourself. Remember your kids are watching you. If you are struggling, there is a really good chance they know it and may also be. On the flip side, If they are struggling and you are not talking about it, they think you don’t notice. Please reach out to me or your local mental health professionals for guidance and support.
Wishing you a purposeful, peaceful, and healthy holiday season.