The holidays can be a magical and exciting time for children as family get-togethers begin, receiving presents, and making memories with loved ones. However, for others, it can be a particularly blue time of the year as holidays can bring feelings of sadness, anxiousness, and loss. This could be especially true for those who experienced a trauma such as abuse, neglect, or death of a loved one. The holidays for these children can be triggering as it can be a reminder of the time when they were abused, or that their loved ones are no longer around.
Figuring out if a child is hiding sadness, or perhaps even depression, can be extremely difficult. But it’s also extremely important. Caregivers can look out for the following as they can be signs of children experiencing the case of the holiday blues:
Withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed
Changes in their appetite or sleep habits
Reoccurring headaches or other pains that are unusual for the child
As the holidays can bring a sense of sadness and loss, it can also bring a sense of unpredictability as school is let out for a short period of time and extra guests coming in and out of the home. This unpredictability and sense of chaos can negatively affect children who experienced trauma. These children can become overwhelmed with their feelings, which can result in them shutting down or acting out. Maintaining a routine, creating a safe place, and displaying empathy are some ways that caregivers can potentially help alleviate the anxieties children can experience during this holiday season.
Children with a past of trauma thrive on structure and routine. When life becomes unpredictable for them, their nervous system goes on high-alert, getting ready for any danger that could arise. Sticking to a child’s routine creates a sense of safety and predictability for the child, as they can be aware of what is to come. Children can also experience sensory overload with the holiday season, as there are bright lights, crowds of people, and excess noise. This can be triggering for traumatized children. Establishing a safe place for the children, whether it’s in a room or car, can be beneficial for the children as it allows them to step away from an overwhelming environment to calm themselves down. In addition, empathizing with and normalizing the child’s feelings of grief can help the child feel understood and accepted.
Although the holidays are typically known as the time of happiness and joy, it can be extra challenging for those who have a history of trauma. Throughout the holiday season, remember to slow down, be aware of holiday blue symptoms, stick to the routines that help your child(ren), and become aware of your child’s potential trauma triggers and reminders.