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PACEs in Early Childhood

Navigating the Holidays for Students with ACEs


Over the last few weeks, I have had countless conversations with schools about the uptick of behavioral issues this time of year. Many educators are recognizing that students with ACE’s have a tough time around the holidays, but very few people know what to do about it. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, below are the top three pieces of advice I have been sharing.

Avoid some of the most common holiday traditions: When we have negative experiences, our brain latches on to everything around us, from temperature and tastes, to sights and smells.  An activity where students decorate a stocking  could bring a student right back to a traumatic moment.  Instead, keep having fun, but be sure to have lots of options for all students, or pick more neutral activities.

Set your expectations: There is so much out of our control, and despite our best efforts to avoid triggers, some students will still be triggered.  Keep in mind that even though you stayed up all night preparing an amazing activity, and a student then tore it up and threw it away, it likely was not personal or malicious.  The more mentally prepared we are for such moments, the more we can support our students through them.

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Give them something to look forward to in January: For many students, the countdown to break is a dreadful countdown.  Start planning a party, fun activity or project for the first week of January. School is the safest place for some students and having something at their school to look forward to during the holiday break can help make their time away from school more bearable.

The most difficult part of working with students is that there is no one answer for every problem.  Brains are complicated, and we cannot possibly avoid every single trigger.  However, being aware of potential melt-downs, and being mentally prepared to endure our students at their worst, is the secret to surviving this time of year.

Meeting our students with patience and love when they are at their lowest is the best gift they can receive during this holiday season.

Thanks for all you do in December and all year long!

Have a wonderful holiday!

Joshua MacNeill, M.Ed.

Director of NeuroLogic Institute


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Josh, These are insightful and practical suggestions - which could even be translated for use in the home for parents and families. There is so much pressure to "have a happy holiday" and for some, the holidays carry difficult memories. These tips on navigating the holidays are useful to teachers, parents, students, children and families! Thank you for sharing. Karen

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