The death of a loved one changes everything, including the holidays. What was once a carefree, blissful time to celebrate with family suddenly becomes bittersweet or downright painful. It's as if the season has the power to magnify the gaping hole in your family, and young children are not immune to these feelings of grief. These eight guidelines for grieving children during the holidays can help families navigate this tricky, emotional time. Hopefully, they can even help your child rediscover and embrace their holiday cheer in the midst of their grief.
Sadly, like with all aspects of life, there is no hard and fast instruction manual for getting everyone through this difficult season of life in one piece. Just as every adult handles their grief differently, so does every child. However, it is important to have a sense of what your child can comprehend at their age. Hungarian psychologist Maria Nagy believed there to be three general stages of understanding death in childhood, based on her studies. As explained in the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, children ages 3 to 5 generally believe the deceased to be asleep or physically relocated, and they may or may not return. Children ages 5 to 9 typically personify death as a person or monster, and it's possible to escape death if one is "clever or lucky." At ages 9 and up, children understand death "is not only final, but it is also inevitable, universal, and personal." Understanding what your child understands can help you figure out how to speak with and help them during the holidays.