Support for young people during end of year holiday season
Young people with a trauma background will likely need extra support and understanding during the holiday season. Particular stresses over the holidays might include a loss of structure and routine, seeing stress in others, unfamiliar situations and people, sensory overload (e.g. too much noise), issues around family contact or memories of previous experiences of celebrations and the holidays.
Attachment, separation and loss are also major themes for children in care. The experiences that children have had in attaching to primary care givers, separating from primary care givers, and losing family, friends, school, home, pets, belongings and so on, have a profound impact on their ability to trust and form relationships with adults.
Some behaviours you might see are:
- Sleep difficulties & nightmares
- Poor impulse control (e.g. opening presents too early)
- Being clingy or fearful of separation from safe adults or objects
- Rapid mood shifts – excited can quickly turn into being overwhelmed
- Asking lots of questions and sometimes the same question repeatedly
- Having difficulty listening, following instructions and remembering rules
- Re-engagement in behaviours you haven’t seen for a long time (regression)
- Changes around eating (e.g. excessive eating, loss of appetite or food hoarding)
Carers can help by providing opportunities for positive relationships, understanding where a young person is coming from (culture/worldview) and what needs are they communicating through their behaviour. In your interactions with young people, can you show that you are:
Available: Help your child to trust that you are available and ready to assist them. Not just merely being present but being actively involved in helping them manage their daily lives.
__Sensitive: __ What are some ways you can be sensitive to the young person’s needs and their way of communicating?
Invested: When carers have confidence in the young person’s abilities and what they can be, the young person has greater confidence in themselves.
Accepting: Recognising attachment seeking behaviour (e.g. clinginess, taking your things etc) as attempts to belong and be included. Can you pick your battles, communicate unconditional acceptance, be patient and encourage the child to try again?
Although potentially a stressful time of year, the holidays can also provide a good opportunity to learn about the young person’s family culture, worldview and traditions that are important to them.
It is important to speak respectfully of the young person’s family and to advance a feeling of connectedness to family and culture. Regardless of whether a young person will ever return their biological family to live, the family will always be an important influence in their life. Helping a young person deal with separation and loss (and express these feelings) can be an attachment building opportunity.
Using the positive interaction cycle: Intentionally engaging in positive social interactions with the young person (e.g. exploring Christmas time traditions, playing games, showing interest, cooking things together), can help them to feel lovable and worthwhile, can help to build self-worth and a stronger attachment between you and young person.
- What has the young person’s experience been before?
- Do they have expectations?
- How can you show interest, be curious and playful, but also respectful?
- Can they use words to describe things? Maybe pictures?
Using inclusion/claiming: Including the young person in the group - sharing experiences, rituals, traditions and knowledge, as well as focusing on similarities rather than differences - helps them become part of “us” and is another way to form attachments.
- What are your traditions around Christmas time? Be specific
- How did those traditions come about? Are there any stories you can share?
- What does Christmas day look like usually? Boxing Day?
- How can you explore and incorporate the young person’s traditions, culture and world view? How do we navigate any differences?