Family life

How to handle your kids' disappointment and start new holiday traditions this year

"This year we need to give ourselves space to mourn what we’re missing.”

Are you wondering how to celebrate the holidays this year when COVID has made so much impossible? 

As a parenting coach, I’ve been telling my clients that we all need to remember this mantra: This year we need to give ourselves space to mourn what we’re missing.

We can also use this opportunity to create new traditions and make the best of a difficult situation. Many of our holiday traditions revolve around gathering with friends and family. The holiday season this year is going to be different. In the past, we hosted friends and family for Hanukkah or Christmas, or travelled to be with our loved ones. With COVID restrictions, many of us will not be gathering together this year

First, the mourning. We need to start by letting ourselves feel the disappointment, and even grief, about not getting to be with our loved ones. Our children will likely be very vocal about not getting to see grandparents, cousins and friends, but we as adults might have a harder time giving ourselves permission to be sad. As you welcome all your child’s big feelings of sadness and disappointment and even anger (“It’s not fair!”), remember to give yourself the same compassion and empathy you are giving your child. You might even set aside a time to have a big old cry about it. That’s OK.

You might be thinking, “But I have so much. It’s wrong to feel sorry for myself when others have so little.” Guess what? Empathy is not in short supply. Being loving and kind to yourself does not mean you can’t recognize another person’s greater suffering. It’s not a contest. 

Let yourself and your child feel all the big feelings.

Laugh if you can, and cry if you need to. When we welcome feelings and do something to process them (like laughing or crying), we move through the tunnel of our emotions. We come out the other side and feel okay again. 

This year we need to give ourselves space to mourn what we’re missing. We can also use this opportunity to create new traditions and make the best of a difficult situation.

Fingers crossed that by next year we will be able to travel and gather again with friends and family. This year, let’s enjoy the time and space that has been created in our lives due to COVID restrictions. While we are sad for traditions we can’t make happen this year, let’s make some new ones, and celebrate in ways that are meaningful to us. And who knows? Maybe you’ll keep some of them next year!

Here are some ideas for new traditions or activities, as well activities that will work for families celebrating remotely. (Thanks to all the parents in my Facebook group who helped start this list with suggestions!)

  • Have a family slumber party with sleeping bags by the Christmas tree (but not the night Santa is supposed to come!).
  • Do lots of family movie nights with holiday-themed movies. (Make a Bingo card or a master list of everything you want to see this year!) 
  • Bundle up and go for a walk or drive around to see outdoor holiday lights and decorations. (Bonus: pack hot chocolate in a Thermos.)
  • Enlist the kids to make your own homemade wrapping paper, holiday cards, or child-friendly Christmas ornaments.
  • Do lots of baking with the kids (if you’ve already done cookies, try making a gingerbread house, sufganiyot, or rugelach).
  • Invite friends and family to join in via Zoom when you’re opening presents.
  • Facetime your relatives while decorating your Christmas tree. 
  • Do a reverse Advent calendar: Add daily to a basket of food bank donations or toiletry supplies for a homeless shelter.
  • Deliver Secret Santa gifts, cards or holiday treats to your neighbours with porch drops. 
  • Shovel a neighbour’s sidewalk or driveway when it’s snowy. 
  • Sing along to holiday music. 
  • Dress up for a fancy holiday dinner by candlelight—either homemade, or ordered from a local restaurant you’d love to support through COVID closures.
  • Make paper (or coffee-filter) snowflakes and hang them in the windows.

For more activity ideas and ways to keep your kids busy—and connected to faraway family—over the holidays, check out these ideas.

Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and parenting advice columnist. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 13, 16, and 19). You can read more from her at

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