By: Rev. Kathy Pittenger
Children’s Initiatives Coordinator
The days and weeks leading up to Christmas can be very exciting for children. But there are children among us who also may be experiencing negative emotions. The “Blue Christmas” service is becoming more common among churches. The service is often on or near December 21st, the winter solstice and longest night of the year. Grief, sadness, anger, and anxiety can sometimes look different in children than it does adults (learn more about grief in children here). Children may feel these difficult emotions at Christmas may be because of the death of a loved one, moving to a new community, changes in the family (separation, divorce, new baby, etc.), or a number of other reasons.
We as faith leaders (and parents) have the opportunity to walk with children and families through all of the experiences of the season. Acknowledging that this can be both a joyful and sad time of year is important. Spend time asking children about how they are feeling. Listen and acknowledge their feelings – they are real and valid. Help the children, and their families, find healthy ways to express their feelings. Give children opportunities to write or draw about whatever comes to mind. Children can often express on paper what they cannot with words.
Provide ways for children and families to “do good” in the world. Helping others is a great way to help children feel empowered. Making a positive difference in the world helps children to feel hopeful. If you do offer a “Blue Christmas Service” consider including children and/or offering a separate service for children with a time for story, crafts, prayer, and music. Visit Blue Christmas and Children for more ideas (adapt or adjust the ideas for your context).
Many children and families experience additional stress during the holiday season. Offer an opportunity at church or suggestions for ways that families can take time to breathe, unwind, and reflect on the wonder of Christmas. It could be a short breath prayer (inhale – Thank you God; exhale – for baby Jesus) or a Christmas mandala that families can color together.
Reach out to families you know have experienced change this year. Offer resources or extra care to them. Ask parents how you can pray and support their family. Additional resources for ministry with children and families who have experienced trauma can be found here, including practical ideas, website links, and books.