We are celebrating the winter holidays during a unique time in our history. There are many feelings swirling in our minds as we contemplate what life will look like in the weeks ahead — worry, fear, confusion, anger and sadness to name a few.
While most of us want to make this holiday season as festive and happy as we can for our children despite the pandemic, it is important that we take the time to validate that they likely are experiencing the same range of emotions we are.
In our rush to smooth things over for our young ones, we often are quick to reassure them that, “It will be fine,” or “Don’t worry, it’s all going to be OK.”
Today, those words probably are followed by an emphasis on some of the ways our holiday celebrations won’t change.
While our hearts are in the right place when we jump to assuage children’s fears, the fact is that when we don’t address their feelings, we are denying them the opportunity to process their emotions in a healthy way.
Furthermore, by brushing them aside with quick reassurances, we are implying that their feelings aren’t valid or even real.
With all the changes impacting children today at home, in the community and at school, our youth are experiencing a wide range of emotions. While they need reassurance that amid the chaos that they are safe and loved, they also need to know that it’s perfectly OK to be feeling their feelings. They need validation.
“Validating means giving your child or teen that all-important and seemingly elusive, message that, ‘Your feelings make sense,” according to Psychology Today’s Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. “I not only am giving you permission to feel what you feel, but I am also welcoming and accepting your feelings in a non-judgmental way.”
If your child opens up about his or her sad or angry feelings this holiday season, listen and offer words of understanding.
“It’s perfectly normal to be feel the way you are.”
“I’m feeling very much the same way you are.”
If your child seems to be handling everything just fine, they might very well be feeling calm and at ease. Some children handle change and turmoil better than others. It doesn’t hurt to ask a few probing questions to check in. In your questions, let them know that they’re not alone if they are having negative feelings.
“How are you feeling about the changes at school? I know lots of kids are frustrated and upset by many of them.”
“Are you worried about how COVID-19 will be impacting our holidays? I know I am.”
Often, just acknowledging and discussing strong emotions is enough to help children feel better in their hearts and their minds. Other times, however, children need coping strategies to help them get a handle on their feelings. This is particularly true for children who are battling anxiety or anger. An excellent article on how to help your child deal with strong emotions can be found at www.verywellfamily.com.
The fact of the matter is, much of our holiday festivities this year will look very different than they have in the past. This will be especially disappointing for those who have to interrupt special family traditions and rituals because of the virus.
While our families will have to accept that which is beyond our control, we also need to know that it’s OK to express sorrow and frustration at having our lives upended and changed this holiday season.
Once you have processed these feelings, perhaps you can turn your attention to new holiday traditions that your family can enjoy in the years to come.
Melissa Hyde has a masters in education from Pepperdine University in Los Angeles and more than 10 years experience teaching elementary education. She works for Challenge to Change in Dubuque, teaching children social emotional regulation skills through the practices of yoga and mindfulness.