Holiday Grieving

Rachel’s Reflections

When the Holidays Are Not Happy

By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

rainy-83136_640Holidays are presented to kids as a time for thankfulness, joy, and excitement. However, for many people, the holidays can be a difficult time – children included. Children who have social language challenges may have anxiety about family gatherings, as well as trouble with the upcoming family interactions. Kids who require structure and routine to function would also benefit from some holiday support, which may include going over schedule changes ahead of time, as a safe place to settle down if the crowd becomes overwhelming.

When children are experiencing a lot of anger, sadness, or grief, they may feel more isolated around the holidays, when everyone else seems so happy.

Holidays are also a time of grieving for those who have experienced loss or family turmoil. Holidays represent anniversaries of grief, and just giving a name to a grief is a start toward recognizing their feelings.

Loss for children isn’t just the loss of a family member or beloved pet. It can be experienced due to loss of security and safety, loss of a home, loss of an important social group or support network, or loss of holiday expectations, when parents can’t pull it off for whatever reasons. Loss is more common than we think, and it touches just about everyone.

The warning signs for teachers and parents that a child is grieving can be:

• withdrawal from family activities or friends
• reluctance to engage in conversations
• increased meltdowns, or
• decreased academic performance.

Our students need supportive environments where they are able to give voice to their feelings and needs in a safe place, and work on gratitude for the blessings we have, and the gifts we receive.

Having an attitude of gratitude has to be learned, but it can be taught and nurtured everyday with the Three Basic Gratitude Questions (see below). We can start small, in fact it can be the smallest thing we notice, to help us appreciate the beauty and goodness all around us. The goal is to teach and accept everyday gratitude, so that we do not let sorrows and grief overwhelm us.

Three Basic Gratitude Questions

  • Who or what inspired me today?
  • When did I feel peace today?
  • What made me happy today?

Further reading:

When the Holidays Aren’t Joyous: 5 Tips for Helping Children Cope With Loss, by Bonnie Rubenstein

Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP, is a licensed speech-language therapist and is the founder and owner of Dallas Reading and Language Services.