How to support your child through the first COVID Christmas

5-year-old Leslie celebrates Christmas in Bolivia

Christmas 2020 is going to be a bit different

Whether your local coronavirus restrictions are relaxing or tightening during December, we know that traditional pantomimes have been cancelled (oh yes they have!), normally packed church carol services will be quieter and this year’s primary school nativity plays might go digital. Disappointed? You’re not alone.

World Vision works with children in difficult and changing circumstances every day. Here, Child Communications expert, Steve Richards, (pictured below) shares some simple ideas to make sure you and your child can have the best Christmas possible.

Steve and his family get ready for Christmas

Steve and his family get ready for Christmas.
Christmas has so many traditions connected with it. Their absence this year, and the idea of doing things differently can seem strange. For younger children, who live in the moment, the emotional toll could be magnified with anger and sadness as trigger points (like missed events) happen.

But there’s a lot you can do to help your children through those times and create a positive, warm, and loving environment for them to enjoy and revel in. Starting now, you can anticipate, prepare and diffuse anxieties and frustrations – and balance them with new and positive experiences and opportunities.

Ana (wearing a face mask), hugs her 5-year-old daughter, Briana, on the steps outside the home in Honduras

Let's talk about Christmas

How do you feel about Christmas this year? Your answer to that question could shape how your children think about it – and ultimately the experience that you all have.

Sow the seeds now: Talk to your children.

  • Discuss what you know is going to be different this year – at school and at home.
  • Give your child time to understand and process that things will be different.
  • Encourage them to share how they feel about that – and tell them how you feel too. Be honest. It’s OK to feel disappointed too – and they’ll know that you understand how they feel which can only help you all pull together to make things better.

A new way to do Christmas?

So, we know things will be different. But that doesn’t have to be a negative. Instead, it could be an opportunity to celebrate Christmas in new, special ways.

Planning a Christmas First this year? Share your ideas

See the space: December is often ridiculously busy for families – Christmas shopping, nativity plays, school Christmas fairs, carol concerts, family parties, end of term discos … the calendar gets filled up very quickly. But this year, the chance are your diary has more empty space. How can you take advantage of this extra time?

  • Have you ever had the chance to visit the local woods on a wintery weekend? (and is the Gruffalo hiding there?)
  • How about a regular cosy Christmas movie night, with blankets, hot chocolate and popcorn every Friday through December?

Simplify: If this COVID Christmas means you won’t have extended family around to entertain the children on Christmas Day, you might not want to spend hours in the kitchen that day.

  • Can you prepare things early, or buy ready-prepared dishes?
  • Can the children help you in the kitchen – festive tunes playing and ignore the mess until Boxing Day?
A little girl in Uganda enjoys a sweet at a community Christmas celebration

Create new traditions

Last year we did a first in our family. Instead of buying an advent calendar full of chocolate, we went to the charity shops and bought Christmas books which we wrapped. Each day, my boys unwrapped a book of their choice from the pile and we read it together. This created excitement, joy and anticipation. We made our own tradition.

Take the opportunity to start new traditions just for your family – things you could continue year after year. Here are a few more ideas to inspire you:

  • Can the children get involved in putting up the Christmas decorations this year? Perhaps they can make decorations for their own bedroom?
  • If you usually do all the Christmas shopping yourself, could you look online together instead? Perhaps involve your children in choosing Christmas gifts for their cousins or siblings? Or encourage the children to make gifts for friends and family?
  • Involve the children in wrapping the presents too. Focussing on giving feels good – and is just as exciting as receiving.
  • Create an alternative advent tradition of doing something for someone else each day of advent: write a thank you card to someone who helped you this year, donate to the local food bank, say a prayer for children in refugee camps this winter? Help them to think outwardly, about others.
  • Children all around the world are facing a strange Christmas season, so help your child to understand that they aren’t alone. Sponsor a child this Christmas and bring a new friend into your celebrations this year. Sending a Christmas card and receiving greetings from your sponsored child can become a much-anticipated Christmas tradition.
A young girl sits at a table with laptop and books in front of her.

New ways to connect:
If you can’t see all the loved ones you usually would over Christmas, why not find a different way to connect with them?

  • Open presents together with them on an online video call.
  • Make and send a video (that’s one for the budding YouTubers to take the lead on).
  • Spend an afternoon together creating a special package to post, with letters, drawings, photos and homemade Christmas cards.
A young boy in Cambodia lowers his head sadly

When things go awry

Remember what matters: There’s no such thing as a perfect Christmas. But what is really important? What are you willing to let go of? Choose where you want your focus to be on the day.

Help your child manage their emotions: Is your child struggling to deal with their feelings during this time of change and unknowns? If so, here are some helpful activities to help children manage their emotions.

If there are melt-downs over the Christmas period, try to understand what your child is really upset about. They’re not trying to ruin everything you’ve been preparing for so long, but simply trying to deal with their emotions. If your child gets upset that they can’t see Granny this year, that’s understandable. Accept it, give your child the time and space to talk about it, then try to balance it with something new and positive.

Celebrating Christmas in Bolivia

Share your new traditions

However you’re celebrating Christmas this year, we’d love to hear it. Share your new traditions with us using #Christmasoffirsts and you might inspire others to a merrier Christmas too.

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