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Coronavirus and Christmas: top tips for talking to children about a ‘plan B’

Fairy lights

With recent Coronavirus announcements, a ‘tier 4’ for London and the south-east and a tightening of holiday restrictions many people’s plans will change.

This post offers some top tips for talking about a plan-b holiday season, especially in conversations with children. These considerations aren’t just applicable to Christmas celebrations – hopefully there are useful themes for any sudden change of plans.

Talking about Plan B

Have a clear idea of what your Plan B is

Before you speak with children, try to have a clear idea of what your Plan B is going to involve and make sure other adults have got the same consistent message. In general, try to find a balance between acknowledging feelings, reassuring that there will still be good things, and constructing a new plan based on things you can control. 

Try to be clear, calm and matter of fact

You will be their guide. Try to be clear, calm and matter of fact. Many children will take their cue from their parents and carers so if you can, acknowledge your own sadness or disappointment, regulate, and show you are able to adapt by making new plans for a different Christmas. For your Plan B, focus on the things that are under your control and that your children can contribute.

Plan how to break the news about disappointing changes

Young children don’t need a lot of explanation or justification; stick to the concrete facts. Older children may appreciate being part of a discussion about risks and safety. When you explain the change of plan, talk about what is going to happen, rather than what is not happening. Not only is this more positive, but for many children, it will help them visualise and anticipate the new plan rather than fixate on the loss of the old plan.

Support children’s emotional reactions

Let children feel their sadness and disappointment, don’t be tempted to minimise or explain it away. It’s tempting to try and talk children out of ‘negative’ emotions, especially at this time of year, but lending a sympathetic ear can be more constructive.

Younger children will benefit from having their emotions named or narrated, to help them give voice to their feelings, older children will find it easier to process and move on if they are given time to express and feel their feelings for a while. Remember that some children need to process their feelings away on their own, and this may also include time chatting to friends or on screens. 

Recognise unexpected emotions

Some children may have mixed feelings and will need reassurance that anything they feel is OK. Some children might be relieved at being able to stay at home, some children might feel guilty about their risk ,or feel selfish at their disappointment. Some may be worried about other family members being sad.

Remember that many children place themselves at the centre of things so may need reassurance that the change of plans is not their fault. If you have more than one child, you may find it helpful to build in some individual time to talk.

Foster anticipation and connection

For many families, the beauty of the holiday period is found in anticipation and opportunities for connection with each other. This has to happen differently this year. Your children might have some good ideas about new traditions or rituals. As the adult, you may be able to think of ways to ramp up some regular moments to create more excitement and anticipation. Anything that might encourage a greater sense of anticipation and maintain connection over more distant lines will help children manage this Plan B Christmas. There are some ideas at the end of this post.

It’s ok to think about yourself

You were looking forward to some respite and joy and comfort, and for once not being the only responsible adults in the building. It has been a tough, tough year. You’ve missed your family, missed your friends, you’ve worried about money, you’ve worked from home, and you’ve home educated, and you’ve pushed yourselves to the limit. It’s ok to be sad and disappointed and worried. Breathe and acknowledge your own feelings. Let those feelings sit alongside you whilst you keep on keeping on, and find a way to give yourself a break, let yourself off the hook. Good luck.  

Fostering connection and anticipation

Tips to promote connection in a ‘distant’ Christmas

  • Take a night-walk around the neighbourhood and create a photo collage to email around
  • Write letters or emails. Younger children may like to use the dictation or voice note functions on smartphones to create their own messages
  • Ask grandparents, family members or friends to record a video story of their best childhood Christmas memories to watch on Christmas eve, or reading Christmas story books.
  • Get the cousins to set dance routine challenges to each other (or the adults). 
  • Do a scavenger hunt at home
  • Make each other’s simple recipes to each other (for example, mulled juice or Christmas cookies)
  • Have video calls at planned times, allow children to plan and look forward to them. 
  • Many children will find it easier to speak to one household at a time, rather than everyone on a call all at once. 
  • Encourage your children to think of new ideas and rituals.

Tips to incorporate anticipation or get children involved

  • For video calls, get children to plan and decorate a backdrop, wear funny costumes or special clothes.
  • Get children to plan out and decorate the table for dinner; place cards, table settings, Christmas decorations, the more the merrier.
  • Make cracker boxes; write jokes or set challenges. 
  • Make a pan of Christmas scent – simmer herbs, spices and berries on the hob. Get the children to experiment (safely!)
  • Encourage your children to think of new ideas and rituals. 


Jennifer Wills Lamacq

About Jennifer Wills Lamacq

Jennifer is a child & educational psychologist who specialises in early years, emotional development, and families. She works directly with schools in South London and as a lecturer at UCL.

View all posts by Jennifer Wills Lamacq



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