Every year at Christmas my great niece, Grace, and I have a push-up and sit-up competition. She is a gymnast and I am, well, older by a bunch. After many months of preparation and the family fans stacked against me, I usually must concede defeat. Surely this year will be no different, that is if we can all be together. It’s not looking good. You all must be facing the same wrenching choices and possible disappointments. Do we get together with family or do we not?
As adults we have the benefit of having experienced many challenging times in our lives. What about our kids, though? They are experiencing a bunch of firsts during this pandemic and this holiday season will be no exception. Disappointments abound and, as they have been doing for the past nine months, their young minds will be pumping out adult feelings’ way above their pay-grade.
They need our help. Whether it is the holidays during a pandemic, a skinned knee or failed exam, our job as adults is to support our kids as they figure out how to struggle and still be okay. Here’s how we can do it:
1)Listen more than you talk: Try not to assume you know how your children feel. Your assumptions are coming through an adult filter which may be completely inaccurate. Instead, ask them and then just listen. Your job is to ensure they feel heard and understood not necessarily better. Do this by reflecting back to them what they say to you about how they feel and then validate their feelings.
It sounds like this: “You sound very upset about Christmas. Tell me how your feeling? What are you going to miss the most? Oh, your going to miss grandma and grandpa because they give such fun presents and your Aunt’s apple pie. Christmas is going to be different than what we’re used to.”
2) No Judgement: Sometimes our children’s feelings seem selfish or make us uncomfortable. This is when we’re tempted to judge them or try to change the way they feel. Before you do remember that children may focus their feelings on smaller petty things because they aren’t yet equipped to handle the bigger things.
It sounds like this: “Really! You’re worried about gifts and food, and not that grandma and grandpa won’t be with us? I’m surprised you would think of just yourself. How about being grateful for what you have.”
Judging your children’s feelings makes them feel more isolated, disconnected and can trigger shame – feeling like something is wrong with them. You don’t have to agree with their feelings to validate them.
It sounds like this: “Thank you for sharing your feelings with me, Honey. As hard as this is, we will get through this holiday season together the best we can. You have been through so much in the past nine months. I am so proud of how you have hung in there. I hope you recognize how strong you are.”
3) Provide Perspective and Problem Solve: After you have listened and validated without judgment it is time to provide some perspective and do some problem solving. Young people with little life experience tend to look at things in black and white. Your job is to validate without re-enforcing the always and never perspective that might come out like “This is never going to end. I’m always going to be miserable. I can’t handle it.”
It sounds like this: “I hear you, Sweetheart. This situation has been going on for an awfully long time and has been so difficult. Good thing that everything is changing all the time and so will this situation. We’ll get through this together.”
Then ask them to remember a time in their lives where they were challenged and persevered. You can always offer one up as well. Help them understand how they dealt with it and how it is similar to what they are going through now.
Then move on to problem solving which will help create some predictability amidst so much uncertainty. Have fun collaborating on new ideas to make this holiday season special. Be clever. Think outside the box. Some of my favorite childhood memories are celebrating holidays in very unconventional ways on the road as a military brat. Interesting how difficult times end up being some of our best stories later in life.
When all is said and done, remember your children are built to struggle and face adversity. Believe in their grit and they will believe in it too. Model resilience and they will find theirs. Love unconditionally and they will be compassionate to themselves and others. We need more people like that in this world.
Happy Holidays. Wishing you and your family wellness and peace of mind in 2021