It’s difficult to imagine not every child looks forward to Christmas break from school. Every kid should delight in two weeks without early morning wake-up alarms and homework. They should anticipate Christmas traditions and feasts, the time and attention of loving parents and relatives, and the discovery of a few gifts with their name on it under a decorated tree.
Sadly, that’s not what many children have to look forward to. They know their experience will be very different from the happy celebrations of classmates. And they dread it. In this post, we’ll explain five common reasons for this dread, signs to look for in the kids in your social circle (i.e. neighbors, school playmates of your children) and suggestions of how you can help.
5 Christmas Break Realities
Some children who dread time away from school have loving families. But their families are so financially fragile, these kids will miss the nutritional breakfast and lunch they get at school. So they’re anxious about the separation from school because they have food insecurity.
Other children may be uneasy about the holidays because of a change in the family dynamic. They may have to travel some distance for visitation with a non-custodial parent. Or perhaps it’s the first holiday after a divorce, incarceration, or death in the family and the child knows things will be very different from what they used to be. Uncertainty breeds anxiety.
A parent’s alcoholism/drug addiction may be another child’s reality. A holiday with time off from work provides their parent occasion and opportunity to indulge in drunkenness or getting high. A child who’s experienced this expects nothing from the Christmas break except neglect and drama.A child who’s experienced this expects nothing from the Christmas break except neglect and drama. Click To Tweet
Still other children live with the horror of abuse. Proximity to and extended time with an abusive relative or family “friend” means Christmas will be anything but merry for them. And they’re terrified of it.
Finally, though a child may now be in a safe and secure place physically, past experiences may still cause heartache. Benign Christmas events may trigger upsets and meltdowns that they are not able to verbally explain. A child can know they’re in a better place, but still be processing the hurts and fears of the past.
Signs To Look For
Children who dread Christmas break may exhibit one or several of these classic signs of anxiety.
- Social withdrawal, sullenness
- Avoidance of going home
- Tantrums or meltdowns
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, diarrhea
- Daytime sleepiness (because they don’t sleep at night)
Suggestions To Help
Let’s begin the advice on what you can do to help a child you suspect is dreading the Christmas break (or Spring Break, or Summer Vacation for that matter) by stating what you cannot do. You cannot, except in extreme cases where you fear imminent danger to the child and immediately report such to authorities, interfere with parental custody or authority. Your going to jail won’t help anyone.
But here’s what you can do in various circumstances.
You can give food to a hungry child in various ways: Drop off a few bags of groceries anonymously on the family’s doorstep. Let a neighborhood child know they are always welcome to have lunch with your child during the school break. Invite (with parent’s permission) them over for a day of cookie baking and feed them nutritious food and send them home with cookies they made. Have a pizza delivery made to their house on Christmas Eve. Get others involved to provide food baskets over the course of the break.
For children who are experiencing their first Christmas after a family trauma, you can: make sure they and their siblings have a few gifts. Enlist others to help if need be. Invite the family to Christmas Eve service at your church. Invite them to be part of your Christmas Day dinner. Play games afterward. Laugh with them and love them. Be available as a safe person to talk to on an ongoing basis. Their hearts will hurt longer than the 2-week break.
Children who are seriously neglected or abused need immediate intervention for their safety. Don’t be afraid to call Child Protective Services and report your concerns and their basis. They can do, legally, what you cannot.
Be patient with children who seem to be walking behavior issues. Before you cut your own child off from associating with them, try to ascertain if there’s something going on at home before you pull the plug. They may have some legitimate anxiety that you – as part of their “village” – can soften with some compassion.