How to Not Treat Children with Tragic Family Circumstances During Christmas Season

How to Not Treat Children with Tragic Family Circumstances During Christmas Season

The holiday season is coming up, and this is another opportunity for social gatherings to occur in great abundance. From buffet dinners for your group, karaoke parties, exchange gift activities, the Noche Buena or Media Noche, there will be lots of people that we are likely to run into, both people we are familiar with, and those who are pretty new in our lives.

Lots of introductions are usually made, with multitudes of names and relationships that need to be remembered. Every had to keep track of who is related to who, whether it is actually the first time you met the person, and making sure that names don’t get mixed up or mispronounced.

I have one piece of advice that I’d like to share, given that I had an unfortunate incident that changed my circumstance as a child. Don’t use the tragedy as the primary introduction of the child.

“This is Giselle, my niece who is an orphan. You know, the one who survived the accident,” is how I constantly get introduced. That is a stab in the heart just within the first few seconds of being introduced to a new person. It is understandable that the immediate reaction of the other person is sympathy and pity.

The opportunity to be treated just like the other kids has gone. The child’s festive mood and inclination to meet new people are gone, just like that.

This advice applies to the aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends or distant acquaintances who know children who are orphans, or one of the parents passed away, or one of the parents did something shameful. Please don’t make the introduction focus on that aspect alone.

Speaking for myself, it feels like that is the only part of me that is worth highlighting just the sad part. It reinforces the feeling of loss and disconnection, and trust me, there are enough reminders of that every day.

This applies to other difficult circumstances as well. If the child just recovered from a serious illness like cancer, had parents who just recently divorced, or was just kicked out of school. Many people enjoy hearing about particularly interesting details about others, it’s part of our ‘gossipy’ nature of our culture. This possibly why the most dramatic aspect of a person’s life is what is mentioned right away. It is a way to be remembered. But, before divulging the information, take a moment to consider a few things.

What is the emotional impact on the person being introduced? Children are particularly sensitive to this and won’t be able to express their or frustration as well as adults do. If they learn that their mistakes or shameful aspects will constantly be broadcasted for everyone to hear, this inhibits their ability to heal.

Does this enrich or add any positive things in the conversation, to the gathering or introduction? Within the context of a potluck or a fundraising gala for example, does sharing the child’s past tragedies really matter? Is there a way to speak about the child’s present-day activities or attributes instead? That can help instill a sense of accomplishment instead, that despite the tragedy that impacts their present-day life, there is so much more they are capable of experiencing and achieving.

If the holiday season is about togetherness and being merry, perhaps it’s a time to focus on the present. I encourage everyone to be respectful and conscious of this. The last thing that survivors of tragedy want is the “gift” of being reminded what they have lost outside of their control.

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