"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,"— Or Is It?

Tips for helping students who experienced poverty or family strife over the holidays.

By Mollie Moore

childing holding a sad face picture

The holiday season is supposed to be spent with people you love. At least that is what one song says. Many people spend the holiday season visiting family that they do not see the rest of the year. Sometimes these visits bring joy and happiness, yet they can also bring up family strife, past hurts, and grudges. More frequently than they should, children see these past hurts rehashed, or find that circumstances force them to early adulthood. Perhaps some of your students are homeless. For many children, the holiday season is not the most wonderful time of the year. As you return from your break, take time to reflect on what might have happened in the lives of your students:

  • Some of them may have witnessed very heated arguments between their parents and are now scared that their parents might get a divorce.
  • Two parents that are already divorced might have revisited past wounds when they met to exchange custody. 
  • A young girl might have had to step in to mediate between her father and her brother to prevent violence.
  • Protecting younger siblings from seeing the bottles of alcohol might be the oldest son’s responsibility. 
  • Maybe this year, mom and dad could not afford presents, so now your student does not want to come back to school because he doesn’t want to feel left out when he sees everyone else wearing their new clothes and hears them talking about their gifts.

For many kids, school is a sanctuary from the outside world, especially their home. As a teacher, it is difficult to know what happens in students' homes. Here are some tips to ensure that you are a safe person for your pupils:

Be Patient During the Transition from Break to School

Like us, kids need time to readjust to a school schedule and school expectations after a break. Be firm but patient when reviewing expectations and procedures. The younger your class, the more reteaching you will need to do. Keep in mind that some of your kids might not have slept well over break or might have slept late almost daily. Be gentle as you interact with them. Use discretion when giving consequences for falling asleep during class. Consider some down time after lunch to ease everyone back into the school schedule. This could include you reading aloud while everyone puts their heads down to listen. Some may doze, but that's OK. 

Be an Available Listener

Just like adults need someone to listen to them, so do children. Be mindful that some of your pupils might need a listening ear after the upheaval of the holiday season. If a child seems interested in talking to you, be available. Often kids decide to talk about private matters at inappropriate times. When this happens, gently interrupt and set up a time with them (that same day if possible) when you can give uninterrupted, focused attention to what he/she is saying. 

Be a Wise Questioner

Do you remember a time when it felt like everyone around you had something that you did not? It is not unusual for a few of your class members to experience these feelings after the holidays. Even if it's not entirely true, kids are prone to feeling like everyone had a better holiday or got more gifts than they did. While talking with your class, be mindful of what questions you ask. Asking questions like “What was one fun thing you did over break?” allows each pupil to contribute to the discussion. In their minds, they do not need to have something as fun as another kid's trip to New York City; it simply needs to be slightly fun. Another question could be "Name one reason you are glad to be back at school." Not only does this take the focus off of gifts and loved ones, it reframes school in a positive light. Questions such as these will protect your most vulnerable class members.

Begin the new year by creating an environment where your class members feel protected and a sense of belonging. Being patient, a good listener, and a wise questioner can help ease students back into their school routine while allowing them to feel safe in your classroom. Do you have tips for teachers as they return from the holidays? Share them with the Lesson Planet Community.