It’s almost the holidays! We’re hustling and bustling in the schools to wrap up the semester with projects and exams (at least in this part of the country, where school started in August). Younger grades may be preparing for programs and parties and lots of fun once the work is over.
Teachers and school staff, I ask you during all of the busy times to watch your kids closely. As much as you may love this time of year, or at least love the idea of some time away from school, there is probably at least one kid in your class who is struggling. You may notice one who does not want to participate or is not as enthusiastic as the others. In younger kids who can’t express themselves well, you may see an increase in acting out behavior. If you are noticing some unusual behavior near the holidays, consider the following reasons:
Has there been a change or loss in the family? Any of the following changes in the last year could be felt strongly during the holidays- divorce, death of a family member, incarceration/deportation/other unexplained loss of a family member, custody change of child or sibling, birth of a new sibling, or a remarriage and introduction of stepparent and/or stepsiblings.
If this is the case, make sure the student has a safe space to talk openly about these changes. If you feel the student needs more support, talk to your school’s mental health professional*. Additionally, make sure that any with any activity involving family, home, or traditions, the students are free to express themselves based on their own experience of family. If an activity is difficult for a child due to grief, they should be allowed to choose a different task.
Is the student’s family struggling financially? The student may feel jealous or sad that other students will get gifts, eat meals, or participate in activities that their family cannot afford. Schools in low-income areas do an outstanding jobs of collaborating with local charities, but it doesn’t always change kids’ perceptions. Younger students often feel that they are to blame for their lack of gifts, thinking they are on the “naughty” list, which adds to their negative feelings this time of year.
If this is the case, make sure that the student is connected to any charity programs connected to your school, and reach out to your administrator or school counselor for additional resources. Additionally, this is a great time of year to focus on character traits like kindness and compassion to take the focus off receiving and onto giving and sharing.
How are things at home? How are the relationships between family members? Might the student be a victim of abuse? Students who not only are not excited about the winter holidays, but do not want to go home on weekends or even during the school week, likely have significant challenges at home. This could be related to changes in the family structure, or to the struggles of poverty, but there could also be negative relationships between family members that affect the child or involve the child directly. In a worse case scenario, the child is being abused. It is our duty to report suspected abuse or neglect, and all school staff receive mandatory training on this topic (these procedures vary by state; if you have any questions please contact your school administrator).
If this is the case, this again may be a time to talk to your school’s mental health professional*. These are also the students who benefit tremendously from positive student-teacher relationships. Show them how much you care about them now and throughout the year. They may want an escape during the holidays, so give them a couple books to read or activities to do when they want to be alone. A journal to write or draw in would also help them express themselves when they’re not in school.
You’re doing a great job, everyone! Less than two weeks to go!
*School mental health professional may mean any of the following, depending on your campus- school counselor, school psychologist, school social worker