Supporting students who don't enjoy the festive period

Jasmin Choudhury

Saturday, 15 December 2018

So what is Christmas? Many children and people seem to think it is a wonderful time where everyone is happy, the table is laden with food and the towering Christmas tree is burgeoning with presents.


The craze for the latest Christmas adverts all show happy loving families with friends laughing and joking. They all play to the image that it is a wonderful time for everyone! Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas – you can get caught up in the festive joy that it brings!

At school, whether you are a Christian faith school or a multi-faith school, it is a busy time and timetables are disrupted with numerous Christmas carol rehearsals taking up a lesson time. The dulcet sounds of children singing Christmas carols and songs harmoniously fill the halls and gaudy tinsel garlands and paper chain decorations hang from most classrooms.

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In primary school, the early years usually do a nativity play and KS1 and KS2 all do a version of Christmas while teaching and learning continue and of course, there is the Christmas lunch! In secondary schools, Y11s, 12s and 13s are madly revising for mocks!

Teachers look bedraggled and -all the staff for that matter, are exhausted and waiting desperately for the end of term …and there are still umpteen things to do!

All very stressful but hugely rewarding when you see parents and carers smiling delightedly when they see their children perform.

If you have Jewish pupils or are Jewish, the recent Hanukkah festivities between the 2nd and 10th of December would have involved making latkes (potato pancakes) and eating chocolate Gelt (the Yiddish word for money).

More importantly, though, the candles in the menorah are lit to commemorate a time when Jewish people remember the great darkness that fell on Jews who were being persecuted by the Greeks. It took the courage of a small group of people called the Maccabees to challenge them and their behaviour and win. Hanukkah is a celebration of that victory and the reminder that light can overcome darkness.

Similarly, Christmas is a special time for many Christians who celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and it reminds people of the light and hope he gave to the world through his teachings.

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For many children though, the approach of the Christmas holidays can signal an incredibly dark time. The looser structure of timetables with endless rehearsals crammed in at school can make children unsettled and behaviour can become an issue.

This is even when, in most schools, the teaching and learning continues even into the last week of the term. That coupled with fraught teachers who have numerous deadlines as well as the planning and preparation to do for the Spring term, can make the last few weeks to the end of term difficult.

Furthermore, some children face the holidays with real dread! Pupils from poorer families often see their parents stretched to the limits with trying to afford a “nice” Christmas. Or they are worried about the heating bills. Some of my students used to say to me, “Mum and Dad need to put more money in the meter Miss because we’re all at home”.

One student of mine told me that he spent his entire holiday under the duvet! Puzzled – I asked him why. It was only when we started talking more that I realised that it was because his parents couldn’t afford the heating bill and it was too cold for him to come out of bed. Both parents worked too!

For many children, school is a warm and safe place and in the winter months especially, it can be a haven as you can be guaranteed to get free hot meals if you are a free school meal (FSM) or a KS1 or EYFS child.

Statistics show that domestic violence – while it happens all year round, particularly increases at Christmas. According to the NSPCC website, 130, 000 children live in households with high-risk domestic abuse (Source CAADA 2012).

Moreover, the recent UN study, “Gender-Related Killing of Girls and Women”, soon to be published in 2019, stated that 82% of people are killed by intimate partners or family members. What is scary is that domestic violence is not means tested and the figures above are only ones that have been reported…

The drinking of alcohol, a push on finances, the close proximity of being all together and even the sheer pressure of needing to be “happy” can be triggers for an emotional and abusive outburst.

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Furthermore, the emotional hold that some cultures have on victims, the lack of understanding of domestic abuse, the secrecy and the shame attached to it can mask abuse in so many forms. Phrases such as, “It is only a shove- it happens,” or the “Don’t be daft – the children don’t understand. Look they are happy!” can undermine the awful truth of what is really happening.

The reversible poems published by Refuge, the domestic violence charity are poignant and thought-provoking and demonstrate how those ordinarily “wonderful celebrations” can spiral into a fearful and frightening time, especially if you are a child.

Christmas can often be a lonely and isolated time especially if you don’t have family and friends around you – whether you are old or young. For looked after children, it can be extremely difficult as they realise that they are not with their birth families for some reason or another and the realisation and pain can be heartbreaking.

Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it can still be a tense and difficult time.

So as educators- take stock and take time to reflect. Talk to your pupils about ways to enjoy their time at home. While you can’t do anything as much about children’s circumstances, unless it becomes a safeguarding concern, continue to be vigilant. Ensure you look after yourself too, so you are ready to wind down and enjoy those well- deserved holidays with your loved ones. Being stressed and tired can impact on your own holidays!

You can help shape the way children and young people view Christmas. It doesn’t have to be an awful time! Neither should it be overhyped! Make sure you have a good time with them too. Talk about what you do for Christmas – they may even realise that teachers do indeed live the most ordinary lives.

Show them the simple things they can do at Christmas, which most importantly, don’t need money.

Send some reading books, colouring packs, word and number games home. Avoid giving too much homework – they need a break and so do you!

For some, you may even need to send colouring kits home as they live in extreme poverty. Teach them board games that they can play at home and you may even have to teach them how to win and lose. Some may still spend time on social media but you can still continue to influence. Discuss movies they can watch (appropriate to their age of course) and explain “why” they made such an impact on you!
If your pupils are revising for mocks, teach them how to prioritise and organise their time so that they still have a good holiday and come back refreshed despite being sick of revision.

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Finally, make a point of talking to children about their rights as determined by the United Nations and remind them of organizations like the NSPCC and ChildLine that can help them if things get tricky or worrying. There were many pupils I taught who were not aware that they have rights until I talked them about it.

Share with them the story of Hanukkah as well as the story of Christmas. In these troubled times, they need to know that there is hope, and light can overcome darkness. It may sound cheesy but the first Christmas started in the most difficult manner and with the humblest of beginnings: a baby boy was born in a stable to a young mother with animals as company. Little did the people know then that he would one day become one of the most revered and respected figures in the world. 

Some important reads this season can be found here and here.



About our Community Expert


Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.

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