Author: Amy Giesler, LCSW

It’s that time of year again! Holiday decorations are out in the stores, the weatherman is calling for more snow, and the toy commercials on TV seem like they are running every thirty seconds! But despite the ever-gleeful media presentation of this holiday season, some may not be anticipating a joyful time. Those who have experienced a loss or trauma may not be eagerly awaiting the coming weeks. Children are especially vulnerable to emotionality during this time. For some who are already fragile, it may be the most challenging few weeks of the year.

While many children enthusiastically embrace the holiday season, for those who have experienced loss or trauma it may bring unpleasant reminders or painful memories. Separation, death, homelessness, or recent changes in economic status can be experienced as trauma and loss by a child. It is most important for adults to remember that each and every loss or trauma is experienced by an individual in a unique way. Sometimes, even seemingly benign sensory input such as a particular smell or sound can invoke stress or anxiety for a child. Responses to loss and trauma vary greatly. This is due to a multitude of variables, including developmental stage, risk and protective factors, resiliency traits, and age. Because each child experiences loss and trauma differently, it is most important for adults to be more attuned to changes in children that correspond to the holiday season.

As the holidays approach, pay special attention to children who exhibit mood and/or behavioral changes. Some children will be “making their list and checking it twice;” however children who have experienced trauma or loss may become more angry, hostile, anxious and distractible. Declining school performance, sleeplessness, or unexplained agitation may all be indicators that a child is reminded of their trauma, loss, or the reality that their wishes may not all come true this holiday.

If you notice a child struggling around the holidays, offer some extra support as needed. Ask the child if the holiday is hard for them. Listen to their concerns or allow them to share their life experience if they wish. Reflective listening and validation will remind the child that you care and are concerned. Going the extra mile to reach out could make a child’s life a little brighter this holiday season.