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Keep the Happy in Your Holidays: Celebrating during COVID-19


Last updated 12/22/2020 at 4:31pm

Courtesy of Children's Hospital Colorado

Community spread of the coronavirus has significantly increased in recent weeks, leaving many families wondering what their holiday season and plans will look like this year. It'll be much different, for sure, and that may cause feelings of sadness and disappointment. Experts say the key is to focus on what you can control. You can help your family cope by being honest with them and finding new ways to safely celebrate cherished holiday or family traditions.

As you plan, keep these COVID-19 prevention tips top of mind:

Avoid traveling. Instead, celebrate virtually with anyone who doesn't live with you.

Wear a face covering and keep your distance while grocery shopping for holiday meals.

Keep an eye on the risks and spread in your local area. (Here's how to check your Colorado county:

Follow holiday guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

We spoke with pediatric and adolescent psychologist Jessica Hawks, PhD, and child life specialist Bree Justus, MA, CCLS, about supporting your family's emotional well-being and keeping the holidays special, even in a pandemic.

Set expectations to avoid holiday disappointment

In line with everything else your child has been through this year, like canceled activities and remote learning, they likely have some idea that holiday plans won't be the same. But openly talking about what's happening and how it's affecting traditional plans can help prepare them for what it will be like this year.

Don't promise things you can't control. For example, avoid saying things like, "I promise you'll go back to school after the holidays" or "You will be able to see grandma and grandpa at your birthday or some other time soon."

It's normal for kids to have a lot of emotions about changes in traditions, especially because many kids look forward to the holidays. Model healthy expression of disappointment by letting your child know it's OK to have those feelings and that you feel them, too.

Be open about the fact that there are some things we can't control. Help your child begin to learn acceptance and why it's important to go with the flow.

Kids pick up on their parents' stress and anxiety, which is often amplified by lack of sleep and physical activity. Talk openly with your family about the benefits of good sleep, exercise and healthy eating, and why it's important for everyone to try and maintain a positive attitude about new traditions you can create this year.

How to monitor your child's emotional well-being and mental health

A rise in the number of cases of COVID-19 may require a shift even from this so-called "new normal" we've been experiencing, and that may have more of an impact on your child than you realize.

With younger children, an increase in meltdowns and behavioral outbursts are normal, especially with changes in routine and high levels of stress and anxiety in the people around them. If they are clingier, they may be scared about what is happening and need reassurance from their family that they are safe and loved.

For children and teens, look for warning signs like sleep or eating changes, increased irritability or lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy. Withdrawing more from friends and family is also an important sign.

Plan to have meals together consistently and check in with your child at least once a day on how they're feeling.

Read through this information we got straight from teens on how to help them cope during the pandemic.

If you believe your child may need professional help, start with their pediatrician. They can screen your child for mental health conditions and recommend where to get care. Our Pediatric Mental Health Institute also offers outpatient therapy with mental health experts, including virtual visits.

Savor quality (quiet) time with your kids

There are likely several aspects of the holiday season that aren't your favorite. Think about the yearly traditions that make the holidays stressful for you and consider eliminating them this year. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is probably one of the best excuses you'll ever have to get out of holiday travel and parties, so use it.

Create meaningful traditions – even in a pandemic

How to create new traditions with your kids despite the coronavirus:

We can keep some old traditions and do things virtually, but staying home for the holidays may mean your family has more time to try new activities, too.

Look up safe events happening in your community and make a plan to attend. This could be drive-in movies, holiday light tours in the car with your own family, or virtual Santa visits.

Find fun ways to decorate your house. Decorations don't need to be expensive. Use construction paper to create red and green chains or draw light bulb shapes to cut out and hang up.

If you normally get a tree but don't have a holiday tree to decorate this year, have your family think about how to make a substitute tree. Try cutting out green pieces of paper and pasting them to the wall in a triangle shape. Then, draw and cut out paper ornaments and tape them on the "tree."

Give back by participating in food drives.

Have your kids help make a cooked meal for a neighbor or someone in need and plan to safely drop it off at their door.

Include your kids in planning holiday meals and treats. Let them help with preparation and cooking.

Have a scavenger hunt. Make a list and look for specific decorations or colored lights around your neighborhood.


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