By Lisa Cossey, MSW, LCSW

We’re in the midst of the holiday season. It is nice to look forward to time with family and friends and participate in ongoing family traditions.

A family tradition is something that is recreated year after year, enhancing family involvement and strengthening family bonds.

Each year at Halloween, my husband’s family will get together and spend an evening visiting haunted houses. It’s perhaps not a typical family tradition, but it’s one they’ve done for years and everyone looks forward to. A less frightful Halloween tradition observed by several of my friends and their families is camping Halloween weekend. My own family has planned fall camping trips two years in a row now; perhaps this will turn into a yearly tradition for us.

Another tradition in my own family that I look forward to every year is gathering in my mother’s kitchen to bake pies and other desserts for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s always a good time with much laughter, and now that my own children are older they are officially part of the family baking team as well.

Sharing traditions provides a sense of comfort and security to a family, especially the children involved. Children love routine and consistency; a family tradition provides this year after year. It also helps the children manage the changes in the year and gives them something to look forward to.

In addition, family traditions enhance family and personal well- being and add to the family identity. Strong family bonds are created and reinforced with traditions that are upheld and maintained. As children grow and mature, traditions can be altered to accommodate each family’s needs. For example, perhaps a family with young children has a tradition of singing Christmas carols around their Christmas tree. As the children age, their tradition could evolve into caroling around their neighborhood.

In recent years, my own family has added time to video call with our relatives after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. These are family members who may not have been able to travel in for the holidays or are stationed out of state or overseas due to military commitments. It gives us all a chance to stay connected as a family, even if we can’t physically be together for the holiday.

Family traditions don’t have to be formal, fancy or cost money. They don’t even have to revolve around the holidays. You can share in a family tradition any day or time of the year. My own family enjoys baking together to prepare for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays; perhaps your family opts to take a walk every Christmas morning or enjoys exchanging white elephant gifts during your celebrations. Traditions are what you want to make them.

Other ideas to create family traditions include:

  • Read a book, such as “The Night Before Christmas,” aloud prior to opening Christmas gifts
  • Weekly or monthly family movie night
  • Have a yearly family talent show
  • Create crafts together
  • Make candy or prepare meals together
  • Have an annual family camping trip
  • Have your own family sporting tournament with a traveling trophy to be awarded to the winning family each year

No matter what your family tradition is or what your family chooses to create, just having something for all family members to look forward to each year is important. Traditions help create warm, positive memories that can be recalled fondly and draw family members back to one another year after year.

By Sarah Roth, MSW, LSW

Although the holidays bring much joy and excitement, they are also a very difficult time for families who have experienced loss. Children are no exception. Feelings of grief may increase or present differently as the holiday season approaches.

So, what can we do to help grieving children?

  1. Understand that everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some may find comfort in talking, reminiscing, and doing things to honor the loss they have experienced. For others, these things may not bring comfort at all. Additionally, grief has no distinct timeline or roadmap. Family members may be at different stages of the grieving process. Remember that each family member’s journey is their own.
  2. Be honest with your children about your emotional experiences. As parents, we often feel we must shield our children from seeing our emotions so we do not further damage or worry them. While we do need to use discretion about what and how we share with our kids, it is also important that we are honest with them. This is especially important in times of loss. Our children are learning from our behavior. Hiding our feelings from our kids can lead to them feeling isolated and confused, as it may send a message that how they are feeling is abnormal. Demonstrating that it is okay to have feelings surrounding the loss is important and vital to everyone’s healing.
  3. Check in with your kid about their feelings. In addition to communicating with your child about your feelings, it is also important that you check in with your child about their feelings surrounding the loss. This helps you learn how to help them cope with the many emotions that may surface. It is important to relay the message to your children that even though they may be seeing each family member grieve in different ways, you’re all in this together. Encourage them to come to you if they have questions or feelings they do not know how to manage.
  4. Allow this year to be different while still providing consistency. There is an inherent change that occurs when loss happens. This is especially true during the holidays. Have an open discussion that traditions may look different than they did prior to the loss. Acknowledge that this is okay. It may provide comfort to all involved as opposed to moving through the holiday season as though nothing has happened. You can say things such as, “This holiday might look different because we don’t have ___ spending it here with us anymore. Is there a new tradition you would like to start or a way we could remember __ as we celebrate this year?” You could also ask, “Is there a tradition that we did with ___ that you would like to make sure we continue to do each year?” Providing a good balance of flexibility while not completely stripping the season of its routine is crucial. Working together to find what works for your family is an important way to ensure you are all providing each other with needed support.
  5. Know when to reach out to a mental health professional. If your child is struggling intensely during this time, it may be time to reach out for professional help. If you notice drastic changes in your child, seeking professional help may be the next step. Inability to complete daily tasks for a prolonged period, participating in risky/dangerous behaviors, or disconnecting emotionally are a few signs that seeking help may be beneficial. For some families this may only last a short period, but for others more long-term treatment may be necessary. Checking with your child’s school to see if there are mental health professionals in the building is a good place to start. The child’s family physician may also be able to connect your family with other resources to provide additional support.

By Leah Lottes, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.

Many thoughts fill our brains each day. Some of those thoughts can be positive and some can be negative. This applies to children as well as adults. If children are experiencing more negative thoughts than positive thoughts, it can really affect their self-worth and overall well-being.

Expressing gratitude, identifying the negative thoughts, and reframing the negative thoughts into positive thoughts are just a few ways to help manage that negative self-talk.

Expressing gratitude is a great way to retrain our brains to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. When meeting with students who are struggling with negative self-talk, I often recommend that they start a gratitude journal and encourage them to write down things they are thankful for every day. This practice can help you to get into the habit of focusing on the good in your life.

Helping students identify their negative thoughts is another step toward helping them eliminate those thoughts. Some don’t recognize how frequently they are thinking and expressing these thoughts. If you hear students being self-critical, you can gently point it out to them and help them navigate why they may be feeling that way. Encourage them to be kind to themselves and to give themselves some grace.

Teach your kids to reframe their negative thoughts into positive thoughts. One activity I often like to do with students is a handout where we discuss different types of negative thoughts. We then identify the negative thoughts they are currently experiencing and reframe those into positive thoughts.

We usually start with a generic negative thought that many kids have said expressed before such as, “We have nothing to eat at home.” Then we take that thought and turn it into a positive thought and say, “We have plenty of food. It just might not be something I like.” Then we start discussing deeper negative thoughts such as, “I am dumb.” We can turn that into a positive thought by saying, “I might sometimes make mistakes, but I am not dumb.”

Another example of a negative thought a student might express is, “I’m not good enough. I always get bad grades.” Then we change the negative into a positive by saying, “That’s not true. Tests do not measure my self-worth.” When students practice turning their negative thoughts into positive thoughts they begin to form the habit, a skill they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

It is normal for kids to be hard on themselves from time to time. Hearing students talk negatively about themselves can be difficult, but there are tools and strategies to help turn those negative thoughts around. If your child is persistently experiencing negative self-talk and you feel as though it is causing a shift in their mood or behavior, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Being kind to others is always important, but being kind to ourselves is just as important.