Helping Children of Divorce Through the Holidays

Written by Hannah Page, MEd, NCC, LAPC

A sweet young girl holding a Christmas present

While working with Children in a therapeutic setting, I have met many divorced parents who are stressed on a daily basis trying to provide their children with equality in both homes and trying to ensure that their child is able to cope with the many changes and transitions that come with divorce. This stress can reach an all-time high for you and your ex- spouse during the holiday season, as tension increases from managing the busy events and schedules that accompany the holidays.

Unfortunately, it is not only the parents who are stressing out during this time. Often, children pick up on the stress and can feel the tension that you feel during the holidays, which can lead them to feel anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed as well. The holidays stir up a lot of mixed emotions and feelings for your children, especially if this is their first Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. following your divorce or separation. Keep in mind that this may be your children’s first holiday without certain family members and family traditions that include the entire family.

Although this time may be incredibly demanding and painful for you, your ex, and your children, one of the best things you can do as a parent during the holidays is to rebuild a sense of family and redefine your holidays with your children. By planning ahead and managing conflicts between you and your ex, divorced parents can still find ways to maintain their sanity and create happy holiday memories with their children. Here are some things you can do to help your children of divorce enjoy and embrace the holiday season:

Communicate and plan with your child’s other parent:

If this is the first holiday season as a divorced family, this will most likely be a year of many changes. It is important to be on the same page as the other parent about the new holiday plans. In some divorce cases, the court will decide how families are to spend the holidays. In other cases, it is up to the parents to determine how the holidays will be spent. Make sure to communicate and plan the schedule ahead of time. Lack of communication and planning between parents typically leads to arguments and will only confuse and overwhelm out your children.

Plan ahead with your child:

Before the holidays approach, be sure to talk with your children and let them know what the holidays will look like this year. Discuss what will be different this year, and what will remain the same. Allow your children to express their feelings about these changes with you. You might ask your kids what they think will be hard about the holidays this year, or what they are most excited about.

Refrain from competition:

Remember what the holidays are all about! The holidays are not a competition, and your children will pick up on if you try to make it one. Communicate with the other parent about what gifts you each plan to give your children. Try your best to give equally. You want to teach your children the true meaning of holidays. Be an example for your children and teach them that the holidays are not a competition about who can give the best or the most gifts, and show them that the holidays are about love and spending time with one another.

Encourage your child to enjoy, even if it isn’t with you:

The most important thing for divorced parents to remember is that the holidays are about their children and not them. Keep in mind many children may feel guilty about enjoying their time with the other parent, and the last thing we want for children is for them to feel guilty about finding joy during the holidays. If you are unable to spend the holiday with your child, encourage them to have fun with the other parent and other side of the family.

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