Traditions are what makes the winter holidays special. And part of those traditions is who we spend them with, such as extended family or friends we only see once or twice a year.
Dr. Laura Gerak, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s Hospital, said if this makes you and your kids sad or angry, it’s OK. Acknowledging those feelings is important.
But what comes next – moving forward – is the critical step that she advises families take.
“Have an open discussion about this year being different,” she said. “Take time to plan ahead so your family still has things to look forward to, though possibly different from ‘the usual.’”
Dr. Gerak suggested getting the family together to brainstorm some ideas for the holidays this year. Maybe driving through an outdoor lighting display has been on your list but you’ve been too busy to see it in previous years.
“Ask your kids ‘What about this? Could we do this? We’ve never done this…’ and see what excites them,” Gerak said.
Here’s some more tips from Dr. Gerak:
Dive into memories of holidays past
You probably have loads of photos from previous holiday celebrations. Now is a good time to sit down with the kids and reminisce about those holidays, some of which they probably don’t remember. If you haven’t already put photos into a scrapbook or virtual album, consider doing that.
“You can look through it on the holiday and tell stories and see what they remember about the different years and their favorite memories,” Dr. Gerak said. “This can bring some sadness, but that’s okay – it could be a time to teach thankfulness that we had those times and the idea to never take for granted the ‘gifts’ we get in our traditions and close relationships.”
This is a great year to resume the tradition of sending holiday cards, and that’s one project in which children can help. Consider having the kids make your cards for a personal touch. Kids who are old enough can also write special messages to family.
“They can say things like: ‘We are so thankful for all the years we celebrated together…’ or ‘We look forward to the next time we are together…,’” Dr. Gerak said.
For nearby friends and family who you won’t see this year due to COVID, think about ways to brighten their holiday by sending or dropping off a goodie bag or care package on their porch. You can also arrange for a delivery of baked goods or other treats that the kids help you select.
Zoom, Skype or FaceTime calls are certainly an option for staying in touch and “seeing” family, but if your kids aren’t patient enough for long virtual gatherings, consider shorter virtual visits. These can work when you share a prayer before a meal together or open gifts from that person.
Make it a chill holiday
Shopping, baking, entertaining, cleaning – sometimes the holidays aren’t much of a holiday for busy moms and dads. This year, while the uncertainty we face due to COVID is stressful, the usual holiday stresses might not be an issue.
“Although the holidays can be fabulous, they typically come with much stress as well,” Dr. Gerak said. “So another option this year is to focus on a ‘chill’ holiday plan, in which you simplify your celebrations.”
Not doing a large dinner with family? Instead, plan a simpler holiday meal with select special dishes or your family’s favorites. Pare down your cookie baking list to the ones you know everyone in your household loves.
Mix up your holiday
It’s OK to do something different this holiday. That might mean letting the kids stay in PJs all day – or dressing up for each other just for the fun of it.
Celebrate with a themed holiday
Consider using one of your family’s or child’s current interests as a theme to center your holiday around. Pick a special movie, and plan your day around it, with food, games and other activities.
Bundle up and get outside
Exercise helps with mood and is just good for you. Getting outside for a neighborhood walk or hike with your family is a good way to take a break in nature. If it’s snowy, take advantage of local parks’ sledding hills or ice skating ponds.
Hear more insights from Dr. Gerak in the interview below.