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How to talk to kids about the pandemic affecting the holidays

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Posted at 6:18 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 06:18:03-05

(WXYZ) — With joblessness still high, the pandemic raging across the country with various states of shutdown, Christmas will look a lot different this year.

In a Gallup Poll, more than 25% of Americans say they will spend less on holiday gifts compared to last year. That's the highest number since 2012.

A separate survey from Deloitte shows nearly one third of U.S. households say their financial situation is worse than last year.

It all adds up to difficult conversations for families with less under the tree this year.

For Khyla Ross Kasbah, 2020 has been a difficult year, despite her graduating from the nursing program at Wayne County Community College.

"Financially, we took a big hit, so with having to wait for unemployment, then not having a job," she said.

That means having a leaner Christmas for her 4-year-old son Grayson, with not a lot of big-ticket items under the tree this year.

"But fortunately, he's a very grateful child. So anything that he gets, he's just always so ecstatic about," Kasbah added.

Focusing on that gratitude is an important part of adjusting to the pandemic this Christmas, says Dr. Jason Vannest from the University of the Cumberlands. Parents should also examine their own emotions: Unhealthy feelings of guilt, anger, or shame, can seep into conversations with children.

"Remind them of how the virus has been powerless to steal the most important aspects of life from us: love, friendship, family," he said.

Whether you have a deeper conversation about how the pandemic economy is changing the holidays depends on the age of the child. For younger children, keep the conversation broad, but it is important for them to know they're not at fault.

"Remind them that, 'Buddy, this isn't anything bad that you have done,'" Vannest noted. "'We have less under the Christmas tree because of the pandemic.'"

For older children, you can have a more frank conversation, but be careful not to go too deep into adult issues like being late on the mortgage or unpaid bills. Even with tighter finances, you can come up with free and creative ways to make the season special, things like walking the neighborhood to see holiday lights, or a scavenger hunt.

"Make Christmas a family event of love and of magic, and your children will remember that forever," Vannest said.

As for Kasbah, the new nurse is deciding between three job offers, and she's expecting a better 2021.

"I'm just really fortunate that my family is very understanding, that my child is very understanding, and that it'll work. It'll work itself out next year," she said.

That's another note: Remind your children that as much as this year may be disappointing, next year should be better. Children are resilient, and in a loving and stable environment they will thrive.