Christmas Lessons from a Middle School Counselor

christmas-928332_960_720By Sabrina Bartels – While wrapping Christmas presents and listening to the Christmas station on Pandora, my husband began reading a Facebook post to me. The Facebook post not only sparked a lot of discussion between the two of us, but judging from the number of comments on the picture, it triggered a lot of thoughts and concerns in other people.

Here is what the post read:

Just a reminder to all you parents out there to be modest with your gifts from “Santa.” Not all parents have a ton of cash to spend on making their kids’ Christmas special, so it doesn’t make sense to have Santa give your kid a PlayStation4, a bike, and an iPad, while his best friend at school gets a new hat and mittens from Santa. You know? Give something small from Santa and make the more expensive presents from you.

You can explain the value of money to kids, but you can’t explain Santa’s discrimination to a heartbroken kid. Keep that in mind this year and always … 

As Rob and I digested this post, several thoughts came to mind. I thought about how there are students at my school whose parents can’t guarantee that they will receive a gift this year due to financial problems. For some of those kids, will Santa be able to give them anything at all? And then I think of the students who will get things from their families AND Santa. How will my less-fortunate students feel hearing that?

Now, to be fair, a lot of my eighth grade students are at the age where they are slowly realizing the truth about Santa. And I promise that I am NOT trying to criticize anyone for how they distribute presents. It’s just that this Facebook post made me actually stop and think about Christmas and Santa through a kid’s eyes. We have a number of students who still believe in Santa, and I would believe that a good majority of them think that Santa will either “forget” them this year, or that they were so sassy that Santa won’t bring them anything.

This always makes me sad, when you ask a student about their break, and they mention that they must not have been good, because Santa didn’t come for them. It’s times like this that I really wish I could win the lottery and give it to families who need the money.

As a counselor, there are so many things you can do to help keep the Christmas spirit alive in your students. If possible, do a gift-giving tree among your staff for students who are less fortunate. There are also some organizations who will take students’ names for their own gift-giving tree. When it comes time to give students the gifts, do so in a way that doesn’t arouse too much suspicion. We always tell our students that they won a Christmas raffle. While parents may know the truth, our kids think it’s fun. And since a lot of these kids are from struggling homes, they think it’s great that they win something!

I also am VERY mindful of how I talk to my students. I try to ask a lot of open-ended questions, like “what are you doing over break?” Asking students if they are excited for Santa or for presents may lead to some awkward feelings if the student’s family is struggling. When they come back from break, I do the same thing, so as not to call attention to the fact that they may, or may not, have had a visit from Santa.

Christmas is also a great time to recognize the staff you work with. As much love and devotion that I give my kids, I think my teachers do the same, but tenfold. They are with your good students, motivating them to reach their full potential. They are there for your sassier students when they are having a hard day, and are constantly supporting your students that occasionally fly under the radar. Recognizing the hard work your staff puts in will really make a difference!

And finally, just be there for your students, both right before the holiday break and right after. Holidays are often the hardest days, whether that’s due to parental discord, financial strain, or distant families. You are a constant for your students, and are so incredibly important to them!

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