The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that holiday gatherings will look a lot different for many this year, and for some parents, it might be difficult to explain why to their children.
Children's mental health experts at Children's Hospital Colorado say parents need to be direct with kids about the importance of keeping loved ones safe and healthy.
Dr. Jenna Glover says that encouraging kids to share their ideas for family gatherings could help them accept the changes. She adds that parents should also emphasize that smaller gatherings are still worth celebrating.
"(Parents should) really have their kids focus on what they can control and what is still available to them, rather than on a deficit and what they don't have," Dr. Glover said. "So shifting the perspective to, 'this is what we're grateful for having,' rather than, 'this is why we're sad.'"
Doctors say it's important to recognize when children are having a hard time accepting smaller gatherings or missing family members. Children may change how they interact with others or express increased irritability or a desire to be alone. Parents might also notice changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Experts say that if behavioral changes get serious enough, parents might want to consider professional help for their kids. And with a rise in telemedicine, getting help is a little easier.
"If a kid can Zoom in with somebody from their bedroom, laying on their bed flopped over, they might feel a lot more comfortable," Dr. Glover said. "That really informal setting, of being in their own space and being able to connect with somebody and share thoughts that maybe they're not willing to talk about with their parents right now."
Dr. Glover says parents should be prepared for their kids to compare how their family celebrates with how their friends are celebrating the holidays. She says it's important to empathize with their children and acknowledge their concerns — but adds that parents should remind kids that the pandemic won't go on forever.