If you are someone who works with kids in the system, remember that the holidays can really hurt.
Even for those of us lucky enough to have healthy, intact families, the holidays can be a challenge. There is so much hype and hullabaloo around "family" and what the holidays are supposed to look like, feel like, be like, that no one can live up to that. We might find ourselves feeling vaguely disappointed, or somewhat let down. Now imagine you are a youth in 'the system'. Imagine you are a kid for whom home is only a memory.
For reasons beyond their control, many of our youth have either lost their families of origin or have very difficult relationships with them. That loss then gets magnified by their experiences once in the system - changes in where they live, who they live with, revolving door staff and social workers, etc.
The Bridges Model of Transition can help us think through what might be happening with our kids, how that might show up in their behavior and what you/we might be able to do to help our youth deal with the season.
BEGIN WITH ENDINGS: Our youth have a lot to mourn and let go of, especially at this time of year. Common behavior in this stage includes:
v Listlessness and apathy, an "I don't care" about any of this attitude; ("This stuff is stupid!" Insulting traditions, etc.)
v Hyperactivity (moving really fast, doing a lot of stuff, talking a lot so you can't get a word in edge-wise and otherwise avoiding any significant conversation)
v Withdrawal or unwillingness to meet, avoiding your phone calls, skipping planned meetings
v Sudden and/or unexplained angry outbursts - especially directed at YOU
v Over the top responses to small losses or disappointments
v Regression to earlier behaviors such as a resurgence in alcohol or other substance use, cutting, suicidal thoughts or actions
v Running away
v Other? Insert your kid's behavior here: _______________
SO, WHAT'S A MENTOR or OTHER CAREGIVER TO DO?
v Be there. Let kids know that even when you don't appreciate their behavior, you care about them and you are not going away
v Be a non-judgmental ear: Validate their feelings. Listen without trying to fix it - you can't fix it, or even make it better. But, you can be listen and help your youth hold their pain - a burden shared isn't quite so heavy.
v Offer distractions and a change of scenery. Hey, wanna go for coffee? A bike ride, a walk, a movie? When was the last time you laid on the floor and colored with someone? If appropriate, invite them to your holiday celebrations (If they are a DCF kid, remember to connect with their social worker to get permission early!)
v Reflect what you see back - 'wow, I notice that you seem really sad (or down, or cranky or at a loss ...) today - lots of folks get like that around the holidays. Do you find that happens with you?" Approve of their feelings - not their behaviors
v Help them think about the skills they have they can use: "What kinds of things have you have done in the past when you felt this way that helped you get through it? What helps when you feel like this" and reinforce the positive options.