Help your child cope with the holiday blues: An age-by-age guide

Practicing holiday traditions safely and developing news ones can help families get through the holidays in 2020

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Parents and child by Christmas tree

The holiday blues, or feelings of sadness throughout the holiday season, are common any year, but in 2020, many people are having a particularly difficult time—especially children.

Children typically look forward to receiving presents, the time off from school, and spending time with family and friends, but this year will look different for most families. Depending on their age, some children may even experience significant mood swings or even depression. 

For adults, the holidays can be a stressful time, as well. That’s why it’s especially important that parents do their best to help their children navigate this holiday season, still make memories, and perhaps even develop new traditions in the process.

Here are some tips for guiding your child through the changes this holiday season—no matter their age:

Toddlers and 4-5 year olds

While they’re not yet old enough to understand the pandemic or its effect on their lives, a toddler’s attitude toward the holiday season is dependent on their family’s attitude. Their behavior reflects what they see. For example, if your family is experiencing stress and anxiety, then the toddler may mirror that stress through sleep issues, crankiness, crying, or general malaise. However, if the family is able to make the holidays as routine as possible and put a positive spin on their situation, the toddler is more likely to adjust to the new routines without much disruption. 

It’s around the ages of 4 or 5 that children begin to recognize or even feel grief because of the holiday changes. The “magic” of the holidays is especially real for this age group, and their typical holiday routines—going to the preschool holiday party, visiting extended family members, etc.—contribute to that magical feeling. The disruption can even lead to emotional trauma and grief.

That’s why it’s very important that families should determine what holiday traditions they can continue safely in order to maintain some consistency for the children. For example, if your family usually decorates your home inside or outside with lights, do so again this year—even if you don’t have your usual visitors.

Elementary school-aged children

Children ages 5 to 10 generally will be very aware of differences they see this holiday season. They may experience grief and have a harder time coping, as they can’t do all of the activities they normally would. This age group is more likely to “snowball” their feelings and make the new changes a bigger problem than what they seem to adults or older children.

To help your child navigate their emotions, work with them to put their problems in perspective. While you should avoid setting unrealistic expectations that the holidays won’t change, you can set up new activities to do as a group or family. For example, if your child enjoys looking at lights while visiting neighbors during the holidays, you could hold a community-wide scavenger hunt this year. Encourage families to take pictures of certain types of lights or decorations and then share your findings with your neighbors through social media or a video call.

Preteens and Teenagers

Preteens and teenagers have often formed strong attachments to their friends, so not spending time with them during the holidays while they’re out of school is difficult. They also typically have more variations in their mood, so added stress can make their emotional ups and downs even more intense.

While they may not be able to get together physically, your child can still spend time with their friends by watching movies together, playing video games, and setting up virtual game nights where they can see and talk to each other. Giving your preteen or teenager a specific activity, such as cooking or baking, to focus on can also help relieve stress. 

A final word on helping your children through the holidays

If you find that your child’s typical attitude or routines have changed, this is often a good indication that they may be having a difficult time and feeling stressed or anxious. Continue to monitor their mood and give them special activities to look forward to. Enable My Child’s Parent Corner is a great resource for play tips and activities families can do together. 

While the holiday season looks very different this year, families can still make the most out of it by maintaining their old traditions safely and forming new traditions.

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