Author: Dawn Mitchell
For many of us, this is “the most wonderful time of the year” full of family traditions and joyful anticipation of a holiday break that will be spent making new memories. For our students or teachers who have experienced trauma, this may not be the happiest season of all, and this time of year could trigger some difficult emotions.
We know that we are all products of our beliefs which are shaped by our experiences. For those of us who have had the privilege of having a life filled with positive experiences around the holidays, it can be difficult to understand why some may be having a hard time in class when we are doing our best to help.
The good news is there is a growing body of resources for educators in the area of trauma informed practice.
As first year teachers, you definitely want to rely on your school’s guidance counselor and your school and district’s team of psychologists and clinical counselors as your “go to” resources for providing ongoing support for you and for your students. In addition, I want to share with you some great suggestions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s SAMHSA’s website for how to recognize and manage holiday triggers for those who have experienced trauma.
1.) Think about how the holiday season impacts you, the teacher. Are you in a frenzy, hopping from turkey donations to a sudden influx of students in crisis? What are your own holiday triggers? Take time to notice your own responses.
2.) Ask yourself, “What helps and what hurts?” As you work with your team, be aware in every instance, you have an opportunity to interact in a trauma-informed way. Asking “What helps and what hurts?” can be a good gut-check. Sure, local honor society students may want to sponsor a gift-giving drive for the kids in your program, but ask yourself: Is that what the kids (and their parents) need right now? How could we set it up so that it doesn’t feel shaming? What could we do instead? Plan now. Talk with your team and your students now about what the holidays may bring up for them. By being proactive, you are being trauma-informed. Even if students have nothing to say, you have opened the door for conversation. And by talking to your students, you can be prepared as a staff to support one another and those you serve.
3.) Pay attention to nutrition and exercise. Cookies, pies, and cake—oh my! Taking care of one’s body is good self-care advice no matter the season, but with additional stress and temptation everywhere, be more mindful about eating and exercise habits. Be sure to drink plenty of water. Indulge in sweets, caffeine in moderation. Go for a walk. Talk with students about these habits too, as part of routine conversations on good self-care.
4.) Create meaningful rituals. This is a great opportunity to involve students and parents. Let them be your guide. Ask yourself how to celebrate, with your team and your program, in ways that relieve stress rather than add to it.
5.) Remember the principles of trauma-informed care. Healing happens in relationships. Recovery is possible. Support control, choice, and autonomy.
By considering the experiences and needs of others, we can be sure that the holidays provide help rather than highlight hurts.
South Carolina ASCD President