After divorce, holidays can be tough on kids

The first holiday season after you and your partner divorce can be a tricky one to manage, with hurt feelings and tension clouding the spirit of the season. Christina McGhee, author of Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents can Raise Happy and Secure Kids, offers these tips for easing into a new kind of tradition:

Keep your emotions in check. “Over the holiday season, kids take their cues from their parents,” McGhee says. That means that if you’re overly sensitive, your children will be, too. Pay attention to your feelings and create a support plan for those times when you need it.

Silence isn’t always golden. “You need to talk with your kids about what the holiday is going to look like,” McGhee says. You may think you’re doing them a favor by glossing over the details and avoiding a painful subject, but the unknown actually makes kids more anxious since they don’t know what to expect. “It’s really important that you talk to them about what’s going to be different and what might stay the same,” she says. “No matter how fantastic of a parent you are, you can’t take all of that hurt and pain away. So use it as an opportunity to help your kids learn how to deal with change in a positive way.”

Different doesn’t have to be devastating. “Sometimes that philosophy of out with the old isn’t so bad,” she says. “Connect with kids by establishing new traditions and rituals.” That may mean that from now on you go bowling on Christmas day or you spend the whole day in your pajamas-get creative to find what works for you.

Help out with gifts. You may feel like you no longer have an obligation to buy your ex-spouse a holiday gift, but you do have an obligation to help your children do so. Kids can feel embarrassed or uncomfortable showing up to the other parent’s house without a present, so make sure to help them out. “You’re not doing it for your ex, you’re doing it for your kids,” McGhee says. “Even if it’s not reciprocated, take the high road.”

Give gifts without strings. When parents give gifts, they often expect the new item will live at their house. Instead, you should let your child choose where he wants to keep his new toy. “If you’re not comfortable giving your child a gift that goes to the other house, then don’t give it,” she says.

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