The winter holidays can be tough times for some children. For some,
drunkenness, beatings, and screaming may be the sounds of the
season. Or, now that Mom and Dad have split, the reality can truly
hit home as children shuttle from place to place, or families are
divided. Old wounds sting anew, as youngsters remember loved ones who have died, and those absent they wish present. All around, the world seems to sing, alive in holiday colors, a festival of happiness
that may leave many children sad, frustrated, alone or unhappy.
It can be very hard to effectively help children come to terms with
the hand that life has dealt them. Depression may chase some of these youngsters like a relentless locomotive gaining speed, moving ever faster. While you will probably not be able to relieve all the pain and
sadness, you can perhaps offer some relief and solace.The truth is
that alcoholic moms don't drink less during the holidays.The truth is
that during the holidays, absent dads remain absent. The truth is that serious family problems don't take a holiday-- even on the holidays.
Sadly, holidays can take serious family problems and multiply and
amplify them as normal routines are discarded, and the family is alone
together. Worst of all, for some children, you may be the only sane,
sober, kind adult in their universe, and now you're gone on vacation. Here are some ways to "stretch" you beyond the conventional work week so you can help your troubled youngsters make it through the holidays.
INCREASE YOUR REACH
To extend your reach into the holiday period when you may not
be in regular contact with your youngsters, find a way to maintain
your connection. Make up postcards pre-addressed to you,
and ask your youngsters to write to you over the break period.
You can also prepare cards to mail to your distressed youngsters
during that time period as well. You may also wish to arrange
mentoring for especially vulnerable children. You can contact
programs like Big Brother/Big Sister, or local church, civic or
IN THE SAFE ZONE
Even if you are a counselor, social worker or psychologist, it
can be tough to get kids to reveal abuse, neglect and other
pain. However, children are more likely to tell, if they know
it is safe to talk. Evaluate your office or classroom to see how
safe it may seem to your vulnerable youngsters. Here are the
conditions to have in place:
Confidentiality: Children want to know that what is said
in the room, stays in the room. If reporting requirements
will impact this, tell the child first. They will feel
betrayed if you tell them later.
Respect: Children want to know that they won't be put
down or belittled if they tell you a "horrible" problem.
Uninterrupted Talk: Children want to know that they
will have the time to say what they need to say,
without frequent interruptions or distractions.
Competence: Children want you to know what to do and
say to help; they don't want to have to deal with your
dismay, confusion, limitations or sadness.
Boundaries: Children want to know what will happen,
plus where and when. It is also important to have pre-
arranged agreements about staying in the room
instead of fleeing during times of upset.
Be Honest: Children seldom want more lies, confusion
or deception. Even a small child has radar for untruths.
You can dole out the truth in manageable doses, but
Make It Safe, Make It Okay: More than anything,
children want you to make the situation better. Of
course, often that won't be possible, but if you keep
that goal in mind, it can guide you on what to do.
A DELICATE BALANCE
If some of your youngsters appear more stressed and troubled
during the holidays, be sure that you adjust accordingly. Don't
abandon your mission but you also don't want to accomplish it
at all costs. Increase your expectations when the child appears
more functional. If you can strike that balance, you can best
offer your service to the troubled child without adding to the
child's woes. Don't expect all your troubled children to quickly
rebound in January. Depression doesn't follow a calendar.
TEACH THE FOLLY OF JOLLY
Even if you are in a school setting, it may be wise to educate
your students to understand that many people struggle during
holiday times. The more you can puncture the belief that
"everyone is happy but me," the more these children may be able
to manage their emotions.
CALL TO ACTION
Structuring the long hours of holiday free time can yield many
benefits. Involve your youngsters in volunteer activities,
especially those that involve helping people who are struggling.
Helping others can sometimes build esteem, and give insight
and perspective. Ensure that all your students become aware of
recreational opportunities too. For youngsters from troubled
families, time out of the home can also relieve some pressure.
THE SEASON TO INSPIRE
There are so many stories of triumph, endurance, courage and
success that relate to this holiday season. What better time of
year to inspire your children who face challenges? Two old
favorites to consider depending on the age of your youngsters:
Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and the old classic "It's a
LIKE THESE STRATEGIES?
We have dozens more. Our newest books, "Forgotten Favorite
Strategies" and "Maximum-Strength Motivation-Makers" are
designed to help you work with children and youth who face
serious challenges. See these and hundreds more free ideas
at our site (http://www.youthchg.com/orderfm.html); or
use the contact information shown at the bottom of this