By Jennifer Toof, Outpatient Therapist

Today’s we’re going to talk about something that we’ve all probably thought about: how do I navigate the holidays during a pandemic? We’ll  to be discussing ways you and your family can manage a holiday season that is drastically different than what we’re used to.

Whether you’re feeling happy or depressed, anxious or hopeful, or all of these emotions, your feelings are valid. Taking stock of how you feel and labeling your emotions without judgment is a really important part of self-care. Don’t should on yourself, telling yourself you “should” be feeling this way, or you “shouldn’t” be feeling that way. Navigating a COVID holiday season is about meeting yourself where you are, no matter where you are.

Our next recommendation for this holiday season is to have ongoing, honest, age-appropriate conversations with your family about Coronavirus. I know sometimes people think they’re protecting their children by not talking to them about “scary” things, but, they’re hearing about COVID-19 even if you’re not talking about it. There’s a lot of misinformation out there for everyone! You have the power to give your children an accurate, age-appropriate narrative instead of letting them come to conclusions from the internet or what they hear other kids saying. Tell them the facts. Yes, there is a vaccine, but we probably won’t get that vaccine for many months. Talk about who is and isn’t at the greatest risk of being impacted by the virus. Talk about why you may not be visiting with relatives or doing certain things this holiday season. Also, talk about things that are within your control to counter the feeling of being out of control. Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and other safety precautions are things you and they can control and are great to practice together as a family.

Speaking of COVID facts, let your children know that Dr. Fauci has confirmed that Santa Claus cannot get COVID. Santa has natural immunity so your kids don’t have to worry about giving the virus to Santa or getting it from him. Now, while I’m not a medical doctor, I assume the same is true for the Tooth Fairy and all other magical beings. Have no fear, they can all safely visit!

Now, let’s talk about some fun and creative ideas your family can do this holiday season. Maybe you can design festive masks. Leave out cookies, milk, and hand sanitizer for Santa. If you’re meeting family or friends over Zoom or other software, can you do something different to mix it up and combat Zoom fatigue? What about an ugly sweater contest via Zoom! Everyone take turns opening up a present via Zoom! There are a lot of games you can play over video. You could read a holiday book together or screen share watch a holiday movie together. Could you do a play over Zoom, with the people in your household performing for your virtual audience? Something that’s not virtual that I really love is handwriting letters. This is a great opportunity for kids and adults to sit down, focus, practice writing, and practice kindness. We rarely give or get handwritten letters anymore, so the person you send them to will probably really appreciate it!

Finally, remember that we are living through history. This will be the last and only holiday season that we’re in exactly this kind of situation. Next year will be different. It can be helpful to remember that this won’t be forever, so how can you make this year, just this one crazy year, creative and fun? Ask your family what things they’re grateful for about a COVID holiday. What’s the silver lining? Maybe you’re glad you don’t have to drive between houses and have a hectic travel day. Maybe your kids are grateful they don’t have to wait in the cold for the school bus this winter because classes are online. Savor the things you will only have this year. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, there are things we will all miss or reflect fondly on in this moment in time. Have a very safe and a very happy holiday season, everyone!

About the author: Jennifer Toof, MA, works in outpatient services at Child Guidance Resource Centers in Havertown. Jennifer is pursuing a PhD in International Psychology from the The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She is involved in numerous advocacy efforts and organizations on the local and national level and is committed to actions that improve the mental health and well-being of all.