How to talk to your children about socially distanced holidays amid COVID-19

The holidays are going to be much different than this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Families are being encouraged to reconsider traditional gatherings in lieu of intimate gatherings with those in their household to help curb the spread of the novel virus.

The changes are affecting everyone, but it’s important to ensure that children are also aware and comfortable with the changes.

In fact, they might take it better than most adults.

“Don’t assume that your kids are mad about it just because you are. There are plenty of things that we put our kids through family-wise at the holidays because it’s the right thing to do,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting and resiliency expert, told TODAY Parents. “But this might be fantastic news for some of your kids,” she added.

Instead of assuming you know how your kids feel, Gilboa suggests asking a series of questions to feel them out.

“Just start off saying ‘What are you picturing?’ or ‘What are you thinking about the holidays?” she said.

Asking questions may give parents a better grasp at whether or not their kids were excited about seeing extended family or celebrating a certain way.

If they are, parents can get creative by planning a Zoom meal, a food exchange, or a present-swap.

“What are the feelings that make it feel like the holidays? Is it a warm visit? Togetherness? Is it the lack of obligations, like school and work? Is it the food? Is it the smells?” Gilboa said. “We can often creatively get the same feeling.”

Annette Nunez, a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, was impresed with how creative parents got for Halloween and suggested approaching the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in a similar fashion. Part of that included creating new traditions with your closest family members that could continue on post-COVID.

“It’s making a list of some creative ways that we can celebrate the holidays: Is it going to be making cookies every Friday night? Watching holiday TV shows while, eating pizza on Saturday? … Is it making holiday cards instead of actually buying gifts?” she explained.

As important as it is to keep a sense of celebration and togetherness around the holidays, Nunez discouraged shying away from the reality of the pandemic.

She emphasized the importance of having a talk with your children to explain why this year is different and why measures such as social distancing and mask wearing are important in the grand scheme of things.

“It’s really important to have those openings in these conversations that this is the world we’re living in and what we have to do to keep everybody safe. It’s not only us, but it’s the entire world that’s going through this,” Nunez said.

The “new normal” may be stressful for children, so it’s equally as important to help them understand that this will not be the situation forever.

For those looking for the silver lining, Gilboa said that straying from traditional celebrations may allow families to do something they enjoy rather than fulfilling an obligation.

“Discussing clearly what won’t be and then giving everybody in the family a chance to talk about what to shift toward. What does this make room for?” Gilboa said.

“Maybe we can do something this year because we won’t be rushing to different work holiday parties and four different neighborhood events,” she added.

But just because celebrations are being scaled down from previous years, it doesn’t mean that the holidays have to be bleak or less joyous.

Nunez suggested putting up the Christmas decorations early because it helps brighten the mood.

“A lot of people they’re starting to decorate their houses so I think it’ll be a very festive year in that sense,” she explained.

Health experts believe the yuletide season reminds people of happier days in their past.

The nostalgia that comes up while holiday decorating has been shown to increase feelings of joy and bliss in studies, said Amy Morin, a Florida-based psychotherapist.

Accessorizing the outside of your home with lights and other seasonal touches can also make you more sociable with your neighbors.

So go ahead, put up those lights! No one is judging you this year – we could all use the cheer.

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