When Christmas is full of fear, not cheer.

by | Dec 3, 2021

Deck the halls with boughs of holly – not all kids are ha-ppy for this time.
‘This the season when it’s folly, thinking it’s all joyous Christmas rhymes.
Stats of poverty, abuse, anxiety – make it hard for us to know what to do.
Some don’t fit the norm of propriety. So what are all the options left for you?

With the festive season just around the corner, we are in one of the most challenging times of the year for so many children who continue to be impacted by issues in their homes, ranging from low income to abuse and neglect. At this time when everyone is expected to be full of Christmas cheer, the reality for some of our pupils is miles away from images cultivated by companies with slick advertising campaigns centered on plenty in the heart of the family.

Some children cannot get lost in the moment and magic of Christmas as they have to be responsible carers. Statistics are no longer up-to-date on numbers, but at the last count, more than half a million youngsters – some as young as 5 – had a responsibility beyond their years! Young carers experience poorer mental well-being than the general population, with 4 in 10 young carers reporting feeling sad, 1 in 4 said feeling lonely, and 1 in 2 reported feeling angry in the preceding week. In addition, they are more likely to be bullied in school, have missed days, and fall asleep in school in the prior week.

For some children, even when they are safe, warm and sheltered in the bosom of a loving family, anxiety can spike with the added pressure. Figures published by Action for Children show half of those surveyed reported stress due to the pandemic crisis, and 38 per cent were scared of getting ill or dying. A further third was feeling lonely, and 26 per cent reported feeling angry, with one in eight stating they suffered nightmares. Meanwhile, one in five (22 per cent) parents reported that their child had experienced mood swings or panic attacks. One in six parents said they would cancel Christmas this year if they could.

For many, school is one of the few support networks for children, and since this disappears over Christmas, you may be experiencing a rise in concerns for vulnerable children. So what can you do to support those who are even more exposed at this time because they are not in safe or secure housing or families?

As teachers, we have the privilege of talking individually to children to get to know them and to help identify what they least look forward to. If they are worried or anxious about anything, there are myriad opportunities to help them figure out their problems and build strategies to deal with them. 

Although you cannot be with your pupils 24/7, you can empower them to safeguard themselves by effectively teaching them important protective behaviours in a stress-free and non-confrontational manner within the school. For example, through LifeWise PSHE lessons, you can teach your pupils the skills and knowledge that enable them to defend themselves, establish boundaries, and act with assertiveness. You can also help them understand that in the absence of coming to you with anything, there are alternative provisions that you can point them towards throughout this time. In addition, the services and support networks available beyond school appear systematically in topics that guide them to confide in trusted adults, whatever the reason or season.

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