While the holiday season is a time of joy and excitement for most, it can be a stressful and overwhelming period for students that have experienced trauma. Similarly, for those students whose families don’t celebrate any of the winter holidays, whether for religious or financial reasons, this time can be filled with feelings of shame and sadness. Without taking away from the excitement of those eagerly awaiting this special time of year, there are still many ways that we can make sure to take care of those students that are suffering.
Look for the warning signs
Make sure that you are constantly taking a “mental temperature check” of your class by openly talking about their feelings and experiences. You can do this by either showing one of your Move This World opening rituals, or by doing a quick exercise where you ask all of the students to show you how they are feeling with a simple movement (whether that’s arms in the air “excited” or head down “sad”). Take a look around the room and identify those students that are embodying negative emotions- these are the students you should be checking in with more regularly.
Prepare students for a change in routine
We know that all students, and especially students that have experienced trauma, rely heavily on and find comfort in their routines. Even a small change in routine can have a major emotional impact. While holiday parties in your classroom are more than welcome, make sure you prepare students in advance and clearly outline how that day is going to be different from a normal school day.
Do a thoughtful arts & crafts activity
When you know that some students may not receive gifts, you can have your entire class do a fun craft or activity which encourages them to create an object or “gift” that they can keep with them and use throughout the year. Avoid things that are specific to particular traditions or that ask students to identify their favorite part about the holidays. Rather, have them create something that will be meaningful to them. Similarly, some students might be upset that they don’t have the money or resources to purchase gifts for parents, family and friends. Try to find time to create a card or easy craft that students can give to someone important to them.
ACTIVITY IDEA -> Happiness Box
Have students make their own special box where they can keep their favorite things. Inside the box, have students choose a “growth mindset mantra” that they can write on the the inside flap. Students can look at their box any time they’re feeling down to read their mantra and look at their favorite possession.
Instill a practice of giving
Check out our recent article that talks about how you can get your students involved in service. Having students participate in these kinds of activities around the holidays allows them to develop an understanding of different family situations and build empathy.
Use your resources
Work with your guidance department and administrative team to figure out which families may need support over the holidays. Leverage your staff and parent communities to collect food and gifts. Connect families to other resources in your communities that may be hosting holiday parties and drives.
Keep an eye out for your students during this time of year- everyone handles the holidays differently and we can do many things to create a safe and supportive environment for our students to ensure that they feel valued, loved, and appreciated.