The holidays are all about cherished traditions with loved ones. But what happens when those loved ones separate, and the traditions have to change? It’s a worry that many children have after their parents split.
If your child is confused or scared about what the holidays will look like this year, planning and communication are the best ways to alleviate their concerns. Although some negative emotions are inevitable, by preparing your kids ahead of time, you can help them process their feelings, make new traditions, and still have a fun holiday.
Here are our tips to help prepare your children for the holidays after divorce.
1. Plan the Holiday Schedule Ahead of Time
Arranging parenting time is the number one source of conflict between divorced parents during the holidays. Of course, both parents and kids want to be together during important holiday moments. Unless you have an exceptionally good relationship with your ex and can spend the season as a family, the reality is that your kids will likely be apart from you at least some of the time.
To prepare yourself and your children for this, create a plan with your ex well ahead of time and communicate it to your kids. It’s better for everyone involved if you can agree on a parenting plan without court intervention, but if that’s not possible, your attorney can help you negotiate a fair holiday schedule. Once everyone knows the plan, stick to it. Last-minute changes can create conflict and make children feel like they’re in the middle of it.
2. Listen to Your Kids’ Concerns
While you’re stressing about cooking Thanksgiving dinner or buying presents for everyone, your children might have a very different set of concerns. Especially during the first holiday season after divorce, young children may be worried that Santa won’t be able to find them in a new house or that they won’t get as many presents as usual. Older kids might be concerned about upsetting one parent or not having enough time to see their friends over winter break.
These anxieties are real for them and often signal deeper sadness, confusion, or anger about the changes around them. Be attentive to these worries and encourage your children to express them. You can lead by example by talking about your own feelings and how you cope with them.
3. Demonstrate Kindness Toward Your Ex
Divorce often makes children feel caught between two families. During the holidays, kids may even feel guilty for having fun with one parent without the other. Assure your children it’s okay for them to enjoy their time with their other parent(s). Encouraging your kids to give presents or cards to your ex can also help dispel any notion that they have to pick a side. Most importantly, speak with kindness toward your ex. If that is challenging, at the very least, avoid saying anything negative.
4. Communicate in an Age-Appropriate Way
The most important thing you can do with your children before the holidays is to communicate about all the logistics ahead of time: what the plans are, who they will see, and what is expected of them. The more information children have, the more prepared they will feel, and the more time they will have to process their emotions.
When talking about holiday plans, it’s important to communicate with sensitivity. Teens can have more frank discussions, while younger children might need a lighter touch. Use active listening skills, and remember that your nonverbal communication also sends a message. Your eye contact, tone, and body language should calm and reassure your child.
5. Maintain Favorite Holiday Traditions
Although not everything can be the same after a divorce, keeping your child’s most important traditions as intact as possible can go a long way to make the holiday season more enjoyable for them. Ask them what their holiday must-dos are ahead of time and assure them they can continue doing them, at least in some form. If your relationship with your ex is manageable, you may choose to spend some time together to preserve your child’s favorite tradition. Even if that’s not possible, giving the kids a say in how they spend their time can give them a sense of control in the middle of big changes.