Many in our school families do not enjoy the holidays. There are a number of reasons for this. Although we assume the jingle bells and Hanukah lights bring joy and good will, unfortunately, that is not always the case. Students and staff members have a number of issues and challenges that are magnified at this time of year. People struggle with everything from financial difficulties, homelessness, death, divorce, incarceration, stress, and mental illness. These cause families extra distress during the holiday seasons. These are things we hope people will never have to experience, but may be central to the themes of many of our students’ lives.
In normal times, struggles can derail students, influencing their mental and physical wellbeing as well as their grades, but at the holidays, troubles are especially tragic. Television, commercials, decorations in stores, holiday music, and seemingly happy people are impossible to avoid and often reinforce difficulties, loneliness, or inability to partake in holiday cheer.
Often, people respond with, “Cheer up,” (I can’t), “Things will be better soon,” (No they won’t!), or “I know how you feel,” (How is that possible?). These responses are kind-hearted but can make the recipient feel worse. Sometimes it’s best just to offer a listening ear, a kind smile, or find out what we can do behind the scenes. Is the student a child whose parents are not present or who might have had a death in the family? Are there financial difficulties that can be handled with some discrete gifts? Sometimes there are things we can do or at a minimum, things of which we can be aware. These Learnist boards are aimed at helping us consider students or fellow coworkers who might be suffering at this time of year.
Many students struggle with issues of sexuality, and they report that they cannot come out or if they do, they are not able to cope with their family’s reaction. Holidays are tough at best in these situations, where family expectations weigh heavy on students who want to or who have recently come out.
When students experience tragedy, there are immediate needs and long term consequences. This board helps people to understand how to help support students in their greatest times of need.
Forgiveness is important, especially at the holiday season. Many families have issues and grudges that span decades and cause a lot of stress during the holiday seasons. Sometimes this affects students, especially if family members are together and fighting, or even in situations of divorce where this may affect the entire family’s schedule or the child’s ability to see both parents. Forgiveness, this board shows, is important not only on the surface level, but helps mental and physical health as well.
Often times when teens act out, enable, or become too quiet, they are in need. At this time of year, it is especially important to pay attention to the cues.
A shocking 40% of homeless teens report they were kicked out because they came out of the closet. This is not acceptable. There are not enough beds or resources for these students. Statistics say, some of them may be yours.
The law gives students the right to attend their schools even if they are homeless. This is very difficult for them given transience, transportation, and other issues. Homeless children have poorer nutrition and health, may have hygiene challenges, and haves emergency needs. The holiday season is so difficult for those who don’t even have a home to go to, let alone presents, lights, and festivities.
Divorce is a trauma for the entire family. Students experiencing the immediate fallout of divorce often don’t know where they’ll be living, and there isn’t much peace at home. The holiday season, “Peace on Earth,” doesn’t exist for them. This applies to faculty and adults, too. It’s important to be aware of and sensitive to these individuals.
Some students have incarcerated family members and parents. When a student loses a parent to the system and has to go into foster care or live with a relative, this is devastating, even if the parent was rightly convicted of a crime. America leads the world in incarceration rates. This means that some of your students may have a parent or guardian in jail. This holiday season, remember them with kindness.