The holiday season can be an especially difficult time for children who are separated from a parent due to such factors as a divorce, death or incarceration.
For one thing, grieving children are typically aware of being different from others who have both parents.
They are reminded of the missing parent when they see images of families coming together to celebrate the holiday season.
Additionally, there is great stress placed on single or widowed parents who may be trying to cope with economic strife and their own loneliness or difficulties inherent in trying to fill the role of mother and father.
While children cannot be spared the inherent pain of missing one or both parents, they can be provided with comfort, support, and opportunities to remember the good times and joy once shared.
Children tend to find comfort in the lights and smells associated with the holidays. They can be invited to light a scented candle for those they are missing. It is important to remember that children see their parents with their hearts.
Candlelight can be a symbol for the light of love in a child's heart. While a parent may not have been the best or possibly was the worst parent, a child will remember the parent they need and deserve; that is, a mother or father who provides unconditional love.
Adults can reassure children by reminding them to remember the love they shared. Holiday scents may trigger more pleasant memories of times past and can help connect them to the present. The warmth and light of candles draw children's attention to a single point and provide meditative states that are relaxing.
The fire provides comfort and focus from their worries and fears while the scents of hot chocolate, cinnamon, or pumpkin spice may connect them to the love in their hearts.
Also, adults may assist children during the holidays by playing with them. The holiday season is a good time to play games together, do crafts, work on jigsaw puzzles or read stories.
The time together lightens the mood of everyone involved and creates a positive experience for all. It is a way to redirect their anxiety and sadness into a creative playful time during which a natural closeness may lead to shared affection.
Children are comforted by safe, positive closeness. They are delighted by the laughter of others. Family playtime may even provide an opportunity to share about times they played with the parents they are missing.
While adults tend to imagine that remembering someone who is missing may evoke sadness in a child, it more often offers comfort. They are remembering anyway, but may be alone and isolated because they think others don't want to hear about the parents they are missing. Children can be deeply comforted if adults are willing to be open to hear children's memories with a joyful heart, knowing that when grief is shared, grief is relieved.
Take this holiday season to create times for remembering, for comforting, and for supporting grieving children, using the warmth of candlelight, fresh holiday scents and playtime together.
Cynthia White is the executive director of Kids Hurt Too Hawai'i, which in a Honolulu-based nonprofit organization focused on creating a safe space for grieving children, between ages 3 and 19, to express feelings about their loss of a parent to such factors as a divorce, death or incarceration.