November 22, 2010

It's an LGBT tradition.  Go away to college.
Come to terms with yourself as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person.
Come home for Thanksgiving and come out to the family at dinner. 

But, some traditions are just begging to be broken and this is one of them. 

MinefieldAre the holidays REALLY the best time? 


Think about it! (and if you work with young people, think together with them).  Aunts, uncles, in-laws, grandparents, cousins, friends, siblings, parents, noise, chaos... 


Who's not talking to whom? Who did what that's got the gossip going? Old rivalries, new competitions, food, football, family traditions, jokes and games, chaos...   


And in the middle of this, you make your announcement.... ??!?!


Consider waiting.  Find a quiet time where you can actually talk.  And remember that a person's first responses are RARELY their final responses.  It took you a while to come to terms with who you are. Your family may also need time. Be prepared to give it to them.  And be prepared to take care of yourself as they go through their process. 


Make sure you have resources you need - emotional support of friends or other family member, perhaps financial resources if your folks are contributing to your upkeep, housing if you are living at home... Let your family's judgment be theirs to work on, not yours to take on, as long as they are kind to you


Have alternate plans if the situation becomes difficult at home.  A school social worker or other helping professional may be able to help you develop a safety net.  Also remember that if the situation turns violent, get out and get help from friends, police or DCF.  The DCF Number to report abuse is:  1-800-842-2288


If you are someone who works with kids in the system, remember that the holidays can really hurt.


MinefieldEven 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:  _______________      


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.

Help them hang in.  The holidays will be over eventually.  And later, when things calm down, it might be a great time to reflect back on the experience.  What it was like, what did you (they) feel?  What helped?  What didn't?  What might they do to prepare for the next holiday season? Together, let's make the holidays easier for our kids. 

Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, Holiday season.

Robin McHaelen
True Colors, Inc.