While this time of year is generally referred to as the “season of joy,” the reality is that many kids and families in our community struggle during the holidays, dreading school break and the disruption to daily schedules.
As executive director of Safe Passage, the children’s advocacy center for the 4th judicial district, I have seen firsthand the stress that families can encounter throughout the holidays.
When schools shut down for holiday break, it can be an unnerving and difficult time because parents have to work and child care can pose a challenge. Children might be left to be cared for by unfamiliar relatives, neighbors, or babysitters leaving them at a higher risk of sexual or physical abuse.
There are a few key factors that increase the risk to children through the holidays. Factor number one: Because a majority of abuse occurs at the hands of people known to the child such as family or family friends, children face more exposure this time of year. And factor two, about two-thirds of child abuse reports occur thanks to mandatory reporters such as social workers and teachers. The holiday break delays the ability for children to communicate with those trusted adults.
The good news is that there are ways to nurture boundaries for your child that demonstrate love and respect for their health and safety while also teaching them some important skills.
Communication is key. Ensure that your child knows the importance of saying no and is aware of their personal space boundaries.
Teach your child healthy boundaries by letting them take the lead in seeking out physical affection from friends and family. Remind your child that if they feel unsafe or uncomfortable, they can let you know so you can come pick them up or arrange for a trusted adult to do so. Be sure your child knows that they will never be in trouble with you if something unsafe happens and that you are here and available to listen to their concerns.
A trusted local resource that can assist children and families in providing language and approaches to safety is Kidpower of Colorado (Kidpowercs.org). Their workshops are a valuable resource to create safety in our community.
If your child will be spending time with a family or friend that isn’t well known to you, ask if any other family members are living with them or staying for the holiday.
Other ways to show your child love and respect this holiday season include teaching them self-care by providing breaks during loud overwhelming situations and maintaining realistic expectations for their behavior. Even at the most enjoyable special events, remember they are still children who crave consistency and connection. As always, some of the simplest supports are still good to remember, such as avoiding over scheduling. It’s OK to say no to invitations and allow for focus on what you and your child can manage while still enjoying the holiday.
Letting go of a vision for the “perfect holiday” can reduce anxiety for everyone and create opportunity for being present in the moment. Remember self-care — a cozy night in with a holiday movie, a big bowl of popcorn and comfy pajamas can become a new family holiday tradition.
Never underestimate the power of fresh air. Taking a quick walk together around the block or playing in the backyard can shift everyone’s mood.
Please know the team at Safe Passage Children’s Advocacy Center sends all in our community heartfelt wishes for a happy and safe holiday. We are here to ensure that all children feel safe and heard. If you suspect abuse or neglect, don’t hesitate. Please contact Colorado’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline at 1-844-CO-4-KIDS and/or your local law enforcement agency.
Maureen “Mo” Basenberg is the executive director of Safe Passage Children’s Advocacy Center, a nationally accredited children’s advocacy center.