Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Crazy Time of a Crazy Year

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

I first heard someone say it at a New Year’s Eve party, many years ago.

“I can’t wait to say goodbye to this year.  It can’t leave soon enough.”

My heart really went out to that person.  It’s tough going through any challenging experience, but when they all seem to pile on top of each other in the same year, it makes a real challenge out of getting through the day.  It’s no wonder folks experiencing that hope January 1 will draw a line in the sand of despair, and give them the fresh start the calendar promises.

I expect I’ll hear that again this New Year’s Eve, because I’ve already heard it from lots of people—and it isn’t even December.  From the passing of so many amazing entertainers to a one-of-a-kind election to too many news features of frustrated citizens,  reasons abound for people to want to move on to 2017 without giving 2016 a proper goodbye, wishing instead just for good riddance.

This is just as true for children as it is for adults.  Grownups may better understand the challenges that come with a change in presidents, but don’t think that the children aren’t immune from the tension some parents might feel, and unwittingly share with others.  They might not be articulating the need for a safe space, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need one; and combined with the holiday tensions some families regularly encounter, it will be easy to understand if some students will be engaging in unusual behaviors in the next couple of weeks.

What can counselors do to help these students?  What we do best—support.

Create a safe space  Counselors know students will only reach out for help in places where they feel accepted, and where they know asking for help will give them the help they need.  Counselors devoted their energies making sure counseling centers have that vibe and that track record; now is not the time to take away the that certainty with a slip of the tongue about a new political leader or the edgy relative you’re not looking forward to seeing.  Our students need a message of support now more than ever; modelling that message is the very best thing any counselor can do.

Call on your team  You never want to expect trouble, but now might be the time to send a heads up to your classroom colleagues, reminding them of the kinds of stress this time of year puts on students, and encouraging them to let you know if there’s a student who might be struggling unexpectedly.  Intervening before a problem gets out of hand is a delicate mix of art and science, and the intuitive data teachers can provide can make a world of difference in a student’s life.  Let your work partners know how much you value their insights.

Self-regulate  Being a great counselor is important to everyone, but that won’t get your holiday shopping done, or help you manage your own disappointments of 2016.  Counselors often find themselves hanging around the office a little more this time of year for no particular reason.  Make sure you understand your surroundings and the perspective you have that’s shaping them.  You can only be at your best by checking in, and shaping up.

It’s been an unusual year, and this time of year brings with it all kinds of unusual dynamics.  Being your supportive self can create a secure sense for students who keep looking ahead to the What If of the holidays, or who want to know if we’re at 2017 yet.

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