Celebration seems like a normal part of our humanity, but for children who have experienced great loss, the ability to celebrate isn’t a given. How can we empower our children to process the good parts of their story?
Have you ever met a person who seems to sabotage every good thing? Do you know someone who avoids family gatherings, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas? How about someone who always seems to see the glass half empty? The child who cannot seem to relax and have a good time may simply not know how.
When I think of my childhood, I remember waiting for Christmas morning with palpable anticipation. When the morning arrived, I burst out of my bed and waited patiently on the stairs with my brothers and sister. I knew every detail of our traditions, and I didn’t want to miss one. I relished in the slow opening of each gift. I felt overjoyed at the sight of each item—even socks were a wonder! I knew how to enjoy the moment. I had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be a wonderful day, and it always was.
One of our children avoids Christmas like the plague. Before the day even starts, there is complaining and preemptive disappointment. It seems ungrateful, but when we dig a little deeper, we notice something else. This child’s inability to celebrate stems from years of real disappointment and lack of follow-through. This child isn’t trying to ruin the day, but it always seems to end up that way. Our children need permission and empowerment to celebrate. They need to know it’s okay to relax, let their guard down, and enjoy the good things in life.
- Talk about it. So often we forget to include our children in the conversation and the solution. If we are going to empower them to grow up to be healthy adults, we must trust them first with the conversation. Start by saying, “Your birthday is coming up. I know this can sometimes be a hard time for you. Why do you think that is?” Then listen. Engage in the conversation about the why first and then invite the child to give some ideas on how he or she would feel comfortable celebrating.
One of our children becomes agitated when our living space is disrupted by the Christmas tree, lights, wrapping paper, and everything else involved with Christmas. He doesn’t feel like he can settle down and enjoy the day amid the mess. Once we talked about it with him, we were able to come up with a solution to help him enjoy the day and celebrate in his own way.
Another child feels the pressure to act happy on special days regardless of how she really feels. We now celebrate in a different way with her on a different day.
- Model celebration. I like things to be neat, orderly, tidy. It can be hard for me to settle down and enjoy special days and celebrations. If you are having a hard time enjoying the joyful moments in life, take time to plan ahead for the special day. Allow your children to see you relax and experience joy as well.
For many of us, celebration, the good days, and the positive parts of this journey may come in spurts, or they may need to come through intentionality on your part as the caregiver. Regardless, keep helping your children to see the good and positive. They have reason to celebrate.
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