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It’s the most wonderful time of the year — and when there’s been a divorce in the family, Mom and Dad hopefully want to do everything they can to make sure that’s true for their kids, too. Experts say that means making concrete plans but staying flexible and considerate of your child’s emotions, which can flip from one extreme to the other during this sometimes-stressful time.

As you plan for the holidays — and it’s a good idea to do so well in advance — be sure to keep your focus on what’s best for the kids, whether that means starting new traditions, sticking with old ones (usually with a tweak or two), or a combination of the two. And remember that the first holiday after the divorce can be especially tough on kids, who are often placed in new situations that can cause unexpected emotional outbursts.

The reason? The holidays are exciting for kids, but they can also be extremely stressful. That’s because children crave routines, and at this time of year, holiday busyness makes it tough to stick to routines. Add to that the other feelings children of divorce may be dealing with (guilt, anger, sadness, and frustration), and it’s no wonder they find this to be such a difficult time of year.

To help make the holidays easier on your children, experts agree that communication is key. Share the holiday schedule with them, tell them that it’s OK to reminisce or feel sad when they think about past holidays, and let them know their feelings are normal (perhaps by saying, “I know it’s different without Daddy here this year”). Then, ask your child what would help, whether that’s calling or texting Dad, drawing a picture for him, sending him a photo or video, or something else.

But there are no real “rules” when it comes to post-divorce holiday celebrations. Some families are able to put aside their differences and spend the holidays together, while others alternate holidays (Thanksgiving with Mom, Christmas with Dad, etc.). Still, others celebrate the “eve” of the holiday with one parent and the actual holiday with the other. Some families even have one child (or children) celebrate with Dad, while the other child (or children) spends the day with Mom.

It’s a good idea to talk to other divorced parents who have already navigated the holidays since they may be able to offer valuable insight and advice. If you don’t feel close enough to someone to ask, consider joining a support group for divorced parents or checking out online message boards and support groups, which can be very helpful.

Takeaways

  • Making plans well in advance and communicating them to your child is key to helping your child know what to expect.
  • Explain to your child that while some holiday traditions can continue, others may have to change due to new situations.
  • Talking to other parents about what has worked for them (and what hasn’t) can help you and your child navigate this often stressful time.

References

  1. Divorce Care 4 Kids. Helping Children of Divorce Through the Holidays.
  2. Kids Health. Helping Your Child Through Divorce.
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Strategies to Protect Your Children and Teens During Your Divorce or Separation.
  4. Michigan School of Professional Psychology. Holidays and Divorce: do’s and don’ts.

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