Handling the holidays can be challenging for children of divorce. Where there used to be one main family gathering for the child, there are now two or more. Imagine the stress a child feels having to juggle multiple family events that have different people, locations, rules and expectations. To help reduce the strain on the children of blended families, here are a few tips to help ensure a positive experience during the holidays:
- Make sure to communicate. Talk to your children to find out how they are feeling, and make sure to keep an open dialogue with your ex-spouse as well. Don’t assume anything.
- Plan ahead. Start planning your holiday schedule far ahead of time; this can help ensure an easier transition.
- Try to be flexible and make sure to keep your word. This will help ensure your children do not become caught in the middle of any frustrations with your ex-spouse.
- Make new traditions. Instead of trying to replicate an old family tradition, start something completely new.
- Find a way to agree on gift giving methods. Discuss whether you will be buying gifts together or separately. Make sure to coordinate with your ex-spouse so you do not each purchase the same thing for the children. Agree on who will take the children shopping for each parent, sibling, or other family member.
I asked Dr. Stephanie O’Rourke, PhD, LMFT, to respond to some common questions that impact children of divorced families over the holidays. Here’s what she had to say:
My child seems depressed about the family not being together for the holidays. How can I help them cope?
Some sadness is to be expected especially the first holiday season post-divorce. Try to keep some of the same traditions and establish new traditions with your children. Let them have some input about what the new traditions will be. The most import thing is to make time to listen to them. Get rid of the distractions and really listen. It is OK to not have all the answers for them. It is important to remember that our kids look to us for emotional cues they read our body language and reactions, based on how we act they learn what is and is not OK to talk about. If your child is isolating, has a change in sleep patterns or eating, seems more irritable, seems not to enjoy things that they typically would, has difficulty concentrating, or has a change in grades you should seek a mental health professional.
What are some relaxation techniques my child and I can use together to help reduce some of our stress?
To reduce stress over the holidays, do not over schedule yourself or your children. Prioritize what is important and meaningful to your family and focus on those activities. Be protective of your family time. Trying to keep a normal routine and structure will help everyone. To relax with your children spend time engaging in activities you enjoy that will not contribute to the feeling of being over scheduled such as reading with your children, taking a walk, watching a movie as a family. Remember it is OK to say no to the cookie exchange or ugly sweater party if it will cause more stress for you.
How can I keep the dialogue going throughout the holidays with my child?
Communication with your children is important throughout the year. With cell phones, face-time, texting, and emails there are many ways you can keep in contact with your children. Establish with your co-parent a plan for communication try and set up a time that you can communicate with your child daily.
Is it important to keep routines with my kids during the holidays?
Yes. Children thrive off routine and structure. It is not realistic to live by the clock when we don’t have to get up for work or school. However, let your children know what the plan is. Try and keep things in the same order and make sure everyone is getting enough sleep.
Dr. Stephanie O’Rourke is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Solutions Counseling in St. Michael, MN.