The holidays are notoriously challenging for those undergoing stressful life changes, such as separation or divorce. This time enduring such a difficult emotional experience may amplify feelings of loneliness while others are filled with holiday cheer.
The holiday season is often a particularly special time for children. Many kids wait with excitement and anticipation for the holidays, making it that much more difficult when divorce or separation is coloring the picture.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson with Seattle Children's Hospital spoke on King 5 News this week about how to support children who are affected by divorce or separation. According to Dr. Swanson, more than 1 million U.S. children experience divorce or separation of their parents each year. The holidays are especially challenging for these children, often bringing on a sense of intensified loss or confusion. Dr. Swanson highlights that many children's behavior changes in the first year of separation, encouraging parents to be very aware and supportive. Toddlers may regress and school age children may struggle with school, sleep, or interpersonally.
Please review our 5 tips for divorced or separated parents to reduce stress and help your children cope:
- Be aware that your children's feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or confusion may be amplified during the first year of separation and during the holidays
- Communicate honestly with your child. Encourage them to speak openly about how they feel and answer their questions.
- Keep routines as unchanged as possible, in order to provide some stability and structure.
- Utilize your child's pediatrician as a resource for your child's emotional and physical health, in response to this major life transition.
- Provide reassurance for your children that they are not to blame.
If this is your first holiday season post-divorce or separation, please review these additional tips/suggestions for surviving this time of year with your children's best interest in mind:
- Decide ahead of time how holidays will be divided. Create a plan that is clear, balanced, and acts in the best interest of the children. Keep arrangements as clear-cut as possible to minimize confusion for the children and to avoid unnecessary conflict with the other parent.
- Provide reassurance for your children that the holidays will be enjoyable even though they will be different this year. Allow your children to be part of the process of creating new holiday traditions.
- Focus on making your children's holidays cheerful, joyful, and bright, staying as present-focused as possible.
- If you do not get to spend the holidays with your children this year, plan an earlier or later celebration. Be reassuring and do not make them feel guilty.