While the holiday season is known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” it also can be a tough time for people with a history of trauma, like the kids in our care.

At Upbring, one way we bring healing is through practicing Trauma-Informed Care (TIC). “Trauma-Informed Care is the perspective that an individual has endured or been exposed to a traumatic event in their life,” explains Jaime Ochoa, LPC, Clinical Director for Upbring Foster In Texas. “TIC is a holistic framework that we can incorporate into every aspect of our work and our lives — and it’s especially important as we enter the holiday season.”

Read on to learn more about TIC and strategies to make the holidays happier.

What is Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)?

Most of the children in Upbring’s care have experienced significant trauma. This can include physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, or exposure to violence, substance abuse and incarceration. All these experiences shape the way they experience the world, including how they form relationships and react to certain situations.

TIC acknowledges the impact of trauma on children and families and seeks to prevent people from being re-traumatized. Importantly, with TIC, the conversation shifts from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” as a way to distinguish people from their behaviors.

“How a child behaves is not who they are,” Jaime states. “Inappropriate behaviors have an underlying cause. In fact, they can be a form of communication, telling us the child’s needs are not being met in that moment.”

How does TIC take shape at Upbring?

Incorporating TIC into just about everything we do at Upbring, we strive to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for those who have experienced trauma. By implementing TIC, our programs and services help individuals regain their sense of safety and self-worth, ultimately facilitating their path to healing.

Everyone at Upbring has a role to play in TIC. From our case workers collaborating with foster families to the staff at our Head Start Preschools, as well as the program staff at our children’s centers and shelters, each individual contributes to the implementation of TIC principles. Moreover, our foster parents receive eight hours of TIC training. This includes six hours provided by Upbring and an additional two hours through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Furthermore, they are required to attend two extra hours of TIC training on a yearly basis.

Why are the holidays so challenging?

For children who have been through trauma, the holiday season can evoke feelings of sadness, loneliness or loss. Kids in care may miss their biological families more than ever, if they cannot be together for the holidays. Or, the season may remind them of more turbulent times.

On top of all the hectic schedules and disrupted routines, the abundance of food, presents and people can be hard for a child who has not experienced these things before. Furthermore, they may approach celebrations with a scarcity mindset and have trouble regulating themselves. “All the stimuli, plus having an audience, can make holiday events particularly challenging,” Jaime explains.

These trauma “triggers” can lead children to act out or withdraw. Isolation, irritability and outbursts are just some of the signs a child is struggling. As caregivers, our role is to help children understand and manage their emotions, and work to change their behaviors as necessary. “The goal of TIC is to be restorative, not punitive,” says Jaime.

7 Tips for a Trauma-Informed Holiday Season

If a child is struggling during the holidays, know that the root cause may lie deep in their past. Here are seven ways you can approach the holidays through a trauma-informed lens.

  1. Don’t assume. Everyone loves a party, right? Actually, you can’t assume the child in your life is having a good time. Not only are holiday traditions highly personal, but it’s possible they have never trick-or-treated on Halloween before or seen a Thanksgiving spread. Even if they have, they may not feel the same sense of joy as others, due to their past trauma.
  2. Invite them to talk. If you sense something’s up, ask “Are you OK?” Then sit back and listen. They may not be able to fully articulate why they feel the way they do, but a lot is going on inside their heart and mind. Showing they are not alone is the basis for forming positive relationships.
  3. Practice empathy. Acknowledge that the child’s feelings make sense, based on what they have been through. By validating their feelings, you help them feel understood and respected.
  4. Start small — and let them opt out. Children often fear the unknown, and new experiences can be inherently intimidating for them. To help alleviate their apprehension, it’s important to ease them into these situations gradually. For instance, you can start by attending holiday gatherings with a small group of people. If everything goes well and they feel comfortable, you can then progress to larger affairs. However, if the child resists or shows reluctance, it’s crucial not to force or question their decision. In order for them to overcome trauma, they need to feel safe and empowered with the knowledge that they have a choice.
  5. Form new traditions together. If memories of holidays past are too painful, it may be best to try something entirely new (for both of you!). Ask your child to name one thing they’d like to do for each major holiday. Involving them in the planning will help them feel empowered. 
  6. Avoid sensory overload. For many people, the sights and sounds of the season can trigger trauma. Be aware of how your child may react to bright lights, loud noises and even personal touch from friends and relatives. Read our tips for a sensory-friendly holiday.
  7. Stick to routine when possible. Children thrive with consistent routines. Try to give your family some down time between all the festivities.

We can’t predict or prevent all trauma triggers, but we can practice compassion, empathy and understanding. As Jaime puts it, “Trauma doesn’t heal overnight. Building resilience takes time and patience, and some trial and error too.”

TIC can help make the holidays a little happier for those who have endured abuse and neglect — and that alone is worth celebrating.

Want to learn more from our experts about childhood trauma and its effects on development? Register for free via our Foster In Texas Training Calendar.

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