Celebrating winter holidays during COVID

With the holiday season in full swing, and COVID-19 cases rising both in our community and around the country, families are making plans to observe their favorite traditions in a much different way than in years past. CHOC experts provide the following recommendations for how to celebrate the winter holidays safely amid COVID-19.

“The holiday season – filled with celebrations and family traditions – can be such a magical time for kids. We want all families to enjoy quality, happy time together, but it’s essential that these celebrations are done in a safe way,” says Melanie Patterson, CHOC’s vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “We understand some people are experiencing “COVID fatigue” after months of juggling remote learning, working from home and other measures in place in our communities. But now is the time to be as vigilant as ever in doing our part to curb the spread of COVID-19.”

These recommendations are meant to supplement, rather than replace, any local or statewide regulations.

Celebrate with your household

The safest way to celebrate the holidays this year is to celebrate with people in your own household. Travel and gatherings with family and friends outside your household can increase your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

Celebrate virtually with others

Use technology such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to enjoy a holiday meal or gift exchange with loved ones who don’t live in your household. Consider sharing recipes between family members and friends ahead of time, and cooking each of your meals together over video chat. Even Santa Claus is offering virtual visits this year!

Children can also use video chat to do a festive craft project with cousins and friends outside their household.

Set up a virtual cookie decorating or gingerbread house building party with neighbors, friends or loved ones from outside your household.

Or, have a virtual, interactive watch party for your favorite holiday movie using Netflix Party or Disney+’s GroupWatch. These services allow you to synchronize your show or movie with friends and family, and chat while you’re watching.

Celebrating virtually is especially important if you are celebrating with family members over the age of 65, or those who are immunocompromised and have underlying conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.

You can also make crafts or cookies as a family and deliver them to neighbors, friends and family in a safe way, such as leaving them on their doorstep.

Festive outdoor celebrations

As temperatures begin to dip in Southern California, be sure to dress warmly before engaging in any physically distant outdoor activities. Consider a nature scavenger hunt, hiking or taking a drive through a neighborhood near you that is decked out in holiday lights and décor.

Holiday travel

Traveling can increase your chance of getting or spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and your family.

The California Department of Public Health issued a travel advisory Nov. 13, urging visitors to California or residents returning home from non-essential travel to self-quarantine for 14 days and limit their interactions to their immediate household, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. California also announced on Dec. 3 regional stay-at-home orders, which can be triggered by a region’s intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity falling below 15%. Read more about this regional stay-at-home order, including how it impacts travel.

Add a flu shot to your to-do list

Your flu shot is more important than ever this year. Influenza and COVID-19 can have over-lapping symptoms. They also utilize the same resources, including personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds and equipment. Protecting yourself – and your family – from the flu can help limit a potential strain on these resources. Learn more about the importance of this year’s influenza vaccine.

Navigating holiday disappointment

By this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, many children have experienced disappointment about missing out on birthday parties, family vacations or special occasions they had been looking forward to. If your child or teen feels disappointed right now over missed holiday celebrations, this article from a CHOC pediatric psychologist can help.

How parents can help kids navigate holiday disappointment during COVID-19

By Dr. Mery Taylor, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

mindfulness
Dr. Mery Taylor, pediatric psychologist at CHOC

By this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, many children have experienced disappointment about missing out on birthday parties, family vacations or special occasions they had been looking forward to. If your child or teen feels disappointed right now over missed holiday celebrations, let her express her feelings, and validate them. Share your own disappointments and how you are managing your feelings.

As a parent, it is difficult to see your child experience disappointment. As adults, we have the perspective of knowing that there will be other holiday seasons in their future. During this time, children will be most comforted by parents’ words of reassurance that you will get through these challenging times together, and that life will return to normal eventually.

Remind children why things have changed

It can be helpful to remind them about why things are different right now. Remind your child that as a community, we are all doing our part to curb the spread of COVID-19

Discuss changes in plans earlier vs. later

For most young children, it will be helpful to start to discuss changes in plans earlier than later. Start slow and return to the topic several times, each time adding a little more detail. Ask for your children’s input on how they would like to spend the holidays given the stay-at-home order and how they might celebrate with loved ones who they cannot see in person. For example, they can help you bake your favorite holiday recipe to drop off on someone’s doorstep or create a special holiday craft to mail to a loved one who lives far away.

Limit children’s exposure to the news

At this point, all but very young children are clear that something has drastically changed in their world. While it is important to keep very young children away from the daily news which can include death tolls and speculations, parents should be honest about what we are trying to accomplish by social distancing. Here’s an explanation of social distancing. It could be helpful to ask them what they already know, debunk misinformation, and provide additional information for better understanding and clarification.

Let them use their imagination

Have fun thinking about what makeup holiday celebrations and other gatherings with family and friends would look like. Let them use their imaginations on what decorations they would have, food they would eat and people they most want to see.

Celebrate special events in a creative way:

  • Use technology such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to enjoy a holiday meal with loved ones who don’t live in your household. Consider sharing recipes between family members and friends ahead of time and cooking your meals together over video chat.
  • Host a virtual party — decorate a backdrop, make a music playlist and create a themed game.
  • Join friends for a virtual cookie or gingerbread house decorating party.
  • Have a virtual, interactive watch party for your favorite holiday movie using Netflix Party or Disney +’s GroupWatch. These services allow you to synchronize your show or movie with friends and family, and chat while you’re watching.
  • If your traditional outings during the holiday season aren’t an option due to COVID-19, consider planning a virtual field trip and inviting families from other households. Many museums and other attractions are offering free virtual visits during this time.
  • Help your child prepare a special meal or dessert for the holiday or special day.
  • Go into nature for a scavenger hunt or take a drive through a holiday light display.
  • Organize a Zoom or Skype call with family and friends to sing your favorite holiday songs.

Building resiliency

Although this pandemic is not the situation that we would have chosen for our kids to face, experiencing adverse events, with their parent’s support, will help kids build resiliency. They will be able to look back on this time and reflect on how they were creative in finding ways to celebrate holidays and how they found new ways to entertain themselves at home, while persevering over new challenges.

Tips to foster a happy holiday season for children with autism

Amid stay-at-home orders, remote learning and other changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are faced with finding different ways to celebrate the holiday season than they’ve done in years past. The holiday season can still be a joyful time of the year. For families with a child who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), following a few tips from the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC can help ensure everyone enjoys the festivities in their own way.

Activities

Holiday breaks often mean big changes in schedules and routines, which results in things becoming much less predictable. This can often result in the child being more anxious, less able to tolerate frustration, changes in eating/sleeping patterns, as well as impacting a variety of other triggers that may result in challenging behaviors.

To help your child, provide a visual schedule of each day, with start times and end times. Use visual timer apps, “First This Then This” schedules and personalized “social stories” to help prepare for activities. Try to maintain your child’s standard bedtime and mealtime routines.

Decorations

Instead of decorating your entire home all at once, decorate gradually. Look at pictures from previous years to help your child prepare for the change. Avoid overly bright or blinking decorations and strong scented candles. Create a holiday-free zone — such as your child’s room —for your child to come back and use as a “safe place” when necessary.

Gifts

Children with ASD can especially benefit from toys that involve social interaction, encourage turn-taking and build language skills. Give other family members a list of gifts your child might like.

Some children on the spectrum tend to repetitively talk about a gift that they want. To help set boundaries, offer your child three tokens that they can redeem each day to talk about the gift they want.

Opening gifts can be overwhelming for those on the autism spectrum. Video modeling is an evidence-based way to teach your child what to expect and how to behave. Take a video of family members opening presents, taking turns and saying, “Thank you,” and watch the video several times in advance. Also consider wrapping something familiar if your child does not enjoy opening new presents.

Traditions

Choose a tradition that is important for you and your family. Try not to get caught up with keeping old traditions. Create your own family traditions that follow COVID-19 safety precautions and are easy and fun for everyone, like decorating the house or tree using your child’s preferred items and participating in sensory-friendly programs.

“There are many ways to help your child cope with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” says Dr. Jina Jang, pediatric psychologist at the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC. “The most important thing to remember is that your child will enjoy the holidays in their own way, even if it’s different from how others enjoy them.”

What we’re thankful for this year: 2020

Despite the countless challenges brought on by 2020, the physicians, nurses, staff, patients and donors that make CHOC a world-class pediatric healthcare system have retained a sense of gratitude. Several members of the CHOC community share what they are most thankful for this year.

Kim Cripe_CHOC president and CEO

Kim Cripe, CHOC president and CEO

“There are no words to fully express how thankful I am to the physicians, nurses, and staff who have worked so tirelessly and sacrificed so much these past nine months of the pandemic.  I have always been proud of our team and how well we support one another on a daily basis. Yet, our ability to rally in a crisis, particularly as long as this one has been (and will continue to be), has truly left me in awe. I am enormously grateful to everyone at CHOC across all departments, geographies and locations for the way we are not only tackling this challenge together, but also supporting the children and families we serve.” 

chris-furman

Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC board of directors

“I continue to be grateful for serving as chairman of CHOC’s board of directors.   Especially during these challenging times, I am incredibly honored to help CHOC’s physicians, staff, volunteers and donors protect the health and well-being of children in Orange County and beyond.” 

dr-jasjit-singh

Dr. Jasjit Singh, pediatric infectious disease specialist

“Despite all the challenges and changes this year has presented, I feel grateful to be part of the CHOC community. At the beginning of this experience, when there were still so many unknowns, I saw nurses, doctors and all the staff put aside their own fears and rise to the challenge in order to take care of their patients. And I have been watching them continue to do that every day since. It has been inspiring. I am grateful to my colleagues, and their commitment to implementing the latest guidelines and regulations to serve our patients and their families, and for their much-needed detective work on complicated cases. I’m grateful for CHOC parents and my patients – for sharing their strength, resilience, humor and hope with us every day. And last but not least, I owe gratitude for my wonderful family & the fact that we are in a place that allows us to serve our community.”

Dr. Terrence Sanger, chief scientist at CHOC Children's

Dr. Terence Sanger, vice president for research and chief scientific officer

“In a year that has been filled with unprecedented challenges, I am thankful for the opportunity to have joined CHOC’s mighty brigade in February 2020 to help the organization continue to go beyond. I am grateful to be working alongside such amazing colleagues who are committed to the mission of elevating the cutting-edge work being conducted at CHOC’s Research Institute.” 

CHOC Hospital_Outpatient evaluation center

Kelly Navarro, RN, BSN, CPN, CHOC outdoor evaluation center 

“After working at CHOC for 10 years, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve CHOC patients and families in a new way this year at our outdoor evaluation center. CHOC quickly established these outdoor, drive-through facilities at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer our patients a safe and convenient way to be evaluated by a pediatric medical provider, receive treatment when necessary, and undergo COVID-19 testing. The center gives us the ability to ensure continuity of care for patients having surgery, as well as those needing sleep studies and many other necessary procedures. I am grateful for the privilege of serving as a constant for our patients and their families: that they can always count on CHOC for safe, high-quality and convenient care.”


Allison, age 12, CHOC patient

Dr. Mike Weiss

Dr. Michael Weiss, vice president of population health

“At a time in our lives when we have never felt more distant from our friends, neighbors and loved ones, I’m grateful that CHOC was able to deepen our “connection” with our patients and families and provide high-quality medical care through telehealth technology. This service has proven to be a true lifesaver for many children and families. From primary care to sub-specialty care and mental health to speech therapy, CHOC has provided over 55,000 telehealth visits since mid-March. Our patient satisfaction scores have remained over 90% and the subjective feedback we receive is overwhelmingly positive. In addition, this technology has allowed us to support a broader community of patients and families as well as our Orange County schools by providing COVID-19 support and education when and where it is most needed. Connecting is always important, but it has never meant more to our community, and to us, than it does now!”

Grace Magedman

Grace Magedman, executive director of pharmacy

I am very proud of and extremely grateful for everyone involved in launching our prescription delivery service during the state’s spring lockdown. The flexibility, compassion and innovation demonstrated by staff across multiple departments and by our supporters, Hyundai Motor America and Russell Westbrook Hyundai of Anaheim, resulted in a valued resource that helped safeguard the community we serve, especially the most medically fragile members. 

christopher-min-pediatric-psychologist-choc-childrens

Dr. Christopher Min, pediatric psychologist

“Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought, I find myself even more thankful than years past. I am so very thankful for my wife and two little girls, as well as the little furball we recently welcomed into our family. I am also grateful for each of my team members who have come together to offer mental health services in a primary care setting; for fighting the front lines against mental illness in children; and for the way they have grown in their hearts of service, all amidst a global pandemic. I am reminded of the strong bonds that I have with trusted partners at CHOC across mental health, primary care, clinical staff, and CHOC at Mission Hospital. And I am most grateful for the privilege of serving the most vulnerable among us, our children.”


Korbin, age 6, CHOC patient

CHOC clinical associate

Ashlynn Graham, clinical associate

After a year of uncertainties and a new normal, it can be hard to find the good in what 2020 has thrown our way. This year and every year, I am blessed with my family and our health. I am grateful that I have had the ability to work at both CHOC Hospital, and CHOC at Mission Hospital. I am also thankful for all the first responders that have continued to give to those in need during these unthinkable times.

Clavis Foundation

Clavis Foundation’s Tusdi Vopat and Stuart McClure. Tusdi is also a member of CHOC Foundation’s Board of Directors

“We are extremely blessed and grateful for many things, including the privilege to work with CHOC. Their tireless commitment and dedication to the health and well-being of our children is what inspires us all to strive and support such a great institution. Never before has CHOC, or anyone, been met with such extreme challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, CHOC and its staff continues to put patients first, keeping families and healthcare workers safe, and understanding the increased challenges of mental health during this time. We are honored to be part of this amazing team and look forward to a stronger and brighter future ahead for all of us.”

Colleen Smith CHOC nurse

Colleen Smith, manager of clinical programs, CHOC at Mission Hospital

“As I walked through the CHOC at Mission Hospital doors the morning of Sept. 11th, 2020 I took out my phone to text my hiring manager, still a longtime friend, to say, ’20 years ago today I walked through these doors for the very first time thanks to you.’ I had no idea all those years ago what my nursing career would look like so many years later. I am filled with gratitude every day, not only for the opportunities I have been given but, also for the joy I feel working at CHOC at Mission. Not everyone can continue to say they love what they do 20 years later. I consider that a true blessing! Thank you, CHOC at Mission and the entire CHOC healthcare system,  for always believing in me and growing me into the nurse I am today. I feel honored to be a pediatric nurse in my community”

What we’re thankful for this year: 2019

The  physicians, nurses, staff and patients that make up the CHOC healthcare community have much to be thankful for this year. In addition to celebrating our 55th anniversary, expanding our Primary Care Network and preparing to open the Thompson Autism Center, we’re grateful to be able to offer best-in-class care to kids in Orange County and beyond. A few members of the CHOC community share what they are most thankful for this year.

KimberlyChavalasCripe
Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president and CEO, CHOC

Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president and CEO, CHOC

“I have the privilege of experiencing the magic of the holidays through the eyes of our patients.  Their courage, strength, and optimism inspire our team year-round, and drive us to push the limits of what is possible to ensure the very best outcomes for our community’s children.  From bringing preventive care closer to home, to expanding access to mental health services, CHOC’s mighty brigade is dedicated to keeping kids happy and healthy. And for that, I am especially grateful.”

chris-furman
Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC Board of Directors

Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC Board of Directors

“I am grateful for serving as chairman of CHOC’s board of directors.  It’s incredibly heartwarming for me and the entire board to help CHOC’s physicians, staff, volunteers and donors preserve the magic of childhood for thousands of children in Orange County and beyond.”

Emma_Sandhu
Emma Sandhu, vice president, administrator and chief nursing officer, CHOC at Mission Hospital

Emma Sandhu, vice president, administrator and chief nursing officer, CHOC at Mission Hospital

“I make an effort to live each day with gratitude. I am especially thankful for my family and for having the opportunity to be together this Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the things that I learn each day that help me to be the leader that this amazing organization deserves. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love CCMH and how blessed I feel to be a part of CHOC. A mighty brigade of passionate associates working side by side each day to serve our most precious gifts, our children.”

Isabella Valdovinos
Isabella, age 10

Isabella Valdovinos, age 10, CHOC  patient

“I’m thankful for my mom, and the nurses and doctors at CHOC who took out my appendix and took such good care of me. I’m looking forward to a healthy and happy Thanksgiving with my family – especially the mashed potatoes and gravy.”

Liz_Hawkins
Liz Hawkins, volunteer, Mental Health Inpatient Center

Liz Hawkins, volunteer, Mental Health Inpatient Center

“As the first volunteer in CHOC’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, I’m humbled to be of service in the simplest of ways, be it a warm smile, a cup of juice, a compassionate ear or a shared laugh with our patients, families and staff. I’m grateful for all of the little things that I experience with our patients; from painting nails, to working on a puzzle, to learning a new game and even just acting silly by rolling around in the grass in our outdoor play area. I’m honored to be embraced so warmly by our patients and incredible staff as a part of the MHIC “Dream Team.” My husband Ryan and I are thankful for our entire MHIC’s dedication to treating our patients with dignity and respect every day and resetting the standard of care for pediatric mental health in this country. We are making history every day at CHOC. Lastly, I am grateful for all of the lessons our MHIC patients teach me: to face challenges head-on, to develop resiliency and self-awareness, to remember that you are never alone and most importantly, that the little things are always the big things. “

Sterns
Ralph and Sue Stern, CHOC supporters

Sue and Ralph Stern, CHOC supporters

“As the grandparents of 10 grandchildren ages 5 – 17 years and all residing in Orange County, we are so grateful to have CHOC in our backyard. To us CHOC is not just a children’s hospital, it’s a healthcare system staffed by superb physicians, along with caring and attentive nurses, technicians and administrative staff. Each time one of our grandchildren has been admitted to CHOC Hospital as a patient, he or she has been discharged in much better condition. Our gratitude to Kim Cripe, CHOC’s president and CEO, for providing outstanding leadership and to Kara Kipp , CHOC Foundation assistant vice president, and Brianne Ortiz, manager of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department, and the rest of the child life team for the impact of their work.”

Liam Katz
Liam, age 5

Liam Katz, age 5, CHOC patient

“I am thankful for CHOC, child life, the playroom, the treasure chests, all the doctors and nurses, and the wonderful families and friends we have met.”

dr-tom-megerian-choc-childrens
Dr. Tom Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director, Thompson Autism Center at CHOC

Dr. Tom Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director, Thompson Autism Center at CHOC

“I am so grateful for the opportunity that the CHOC executive leadership team and the Thompson Family Foundation have given us to open a state-of-the-art autism center. This will allow us to provide a medical home for families and children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders. My team and I are thankful that we will be able to promote early diagnosis, treatment of co-occurring disorders, education and research for families suffering from ASD.

I am especially appreciative for the gift and privilege of working with colleagues across the CHOC healthcare system in helping make the Thompson Autism Center a reality. Everyone from rehabilitation services, CHOC Specialists, neurology, psychology, information services, project management, the CHOC Foundation, marketing, and my newfound family within the Thompson Autism Center who have been so supportive and single-minded in their dedication to our patients. Finally, I am grateful to the families who, every day, put their faith and trust in us to care for their children. Thank you for enriching our lives by helping us aspire to be better clinicians, caregivers and citizens.”

Kimberly Burks
Kimberly Burks, charge nurse, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), CHOC at Mission Hospital

Kimberly Burks, charge nurse, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), CHOC at Mission Hospital

“As we near the end of 2019, I feel so thankful for my CHOC  at Mission Hospital family. Each member of the team — from our volunteers to our managers — is an integral part of our goal to provide excellent patient care. When things get busy, our team pulls together and works hard to get the job done. I am thankful to work in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that values patient- centered care and infant developmental care so much.”

chief residents
2019-2020 chief residents

Dr. Timothy Hicks, Dr. Stephanie Lee, Dr. Majid Husain, Dr. Amanda Schafenacker, chief residents

“For the past three years we have had the honor and privilege of learning from the incredible patients, physicians and medical staff at CHOC as part of the UC Irvine-CHOC Pediatric Residency Program. This year, we are thankful to be serving as the Pediatric Chief Residents. We are especially thankful for our 90+ residents who serve as the frontline providers taking care of the children of Orange County and beyond, our attending physicians and administrative staff for their commitment to education and teaching, and CHOC leadership for their unyielding support and dedication to our training program. Lastly, as pediatricians, we are grateful have the opportunity to partake in CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of our children.”

Jessica Ochoa, emergency department admitting representative

“I am thankful for the opportunity to work here at CHOC. I am thankful for all of my coworkers and all of the nurses because without them we would not be able to make a difference in these families’ lives. I am thankful for all the wonderful families that I have been able to meet while working here and last but not least, I am thankful for all the children that come in and continue to brighten our day with all of their little personalities. Happy Thanksgiving to all CHOC employees and CHOC families.”