I was walking through the supermarket this past weekend when the old familiar Christmas songs began blaring through the speakers. Really? I could not believe they were already starting and then I looked at the calendar and realized it is December. This is the holiday month. This is the time of gifts and family and time off and laughter and food and happiness. This is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.
But what happens when the holiday season is not the “most wonderful time of the year”? “Depression strikes about 17 million American adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The holidays can trigger feelings of dread, anxiety or depression in some people.”
This isn’t a new concept. We have all heard that the holidays can be difficult for many people. But what about the kids?
There are many issues besides depression that teachers need to be aware of as the holidays approach. Did you know that besides depression – eating disorders, shoplifting, fatigue, overt aggression, sexual acting out, and other extreme behaviors increase amongst many kids during the holidays? We have to ask two questions: why and what do we do about it?
The why is straightforward but not at all simple. Many kids have a poor home life and due to a broken or a disadvantaged home they do not experience the joy of the holidays. They long for the happiness others have and will place themselves in harms way to try and obtain personal validation. Girls will open themselves to exploitation in the attempts to feel special. Boys will try to assert themselves physically and emotionally to make up for the emotional and even material support they do not get at home. Others will shoplift because they know the present won’t be under the tree, but they don’t want to be the only kids with out the latest games or shoes or cell phones. The reason inappropriate and often dangerous behaviors increase during the holidays is that it is a special time of the year, and a lot of kids do not feel special.
So what should an educator do?
The most important thing is to pay attention. Look for the kids that are hurting. If you know of a child from a broken or disadvantaged home, take time to call for help and secure a holiday for that child and family. If you know of kids suffering from low self-esteem, spend some extra time building them up so that they are not so vulnerable during these hard times. If you know of kids with eating disorders remind their parents to be overly cautious during the holidays. Vigilance is an absolute necessity as an educator, but it is even more important during the holiday season.
The song says that this is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and that’s true for a lot of us. But for the kids who are hurting, this time of year can be a stark reminder of what they do not have and who they are not. Teachers, don’t rush to the holidays without noticing the kids who are hurting. Remind your students that they are special to you. And we all need to remember that a world exists outside of our home and our friends and we need to make that world a better place. Giving attention, time, and care to your students is a great place to start, and starting a few weeks early is much better than starting too late.