The holidays aren’t joyful for everyone. This time of togetherness can remind at-risk youth of their own feelings of isolation. Identifying their unique support needs enables them to survive – and thrive – during the season.

1- Start Talking

This demographic is often frustrated that their voices aren’t heard. Perhaps counterintuitively, this frustration can make them withdraw even more. Breaking down these walls won’t necessarily happen all at once, but the first step is simply to talk. Reach out: find a natural way to ask the youth in your life what’s going on. Knowing that someone cares makes all the difference. Plus, it helps you identify what struggles they might be dealing with, which then empowers you to advocate for them in tough situations.

2- Learn their Triggers

The more conversations you’re able to have with an at-risk child, the more you know what triggers them. A trigger is a sensory reminder of someone’s trauma. During this season, it may be a holiday carol, or going to an event with specific people. They could even be triggered by a certain holiday food. Working around this child’s triggers calms them down and strengthens your relationship.

3- Make New Traditions

The best way to avoid an at-risk youth’s triggers is by developing different traditions. If a holiday song distresses them, you can talk about alternatives that they like better. The two of you might even decide that it will be best not to play music at all if that’s too much sensory overload. Holiday foods that trigger them could be modified or served at a new time rather than on a specific date associated with difficult memories. See if you can decline invitations to events that are distressing or leave early.

4- Keep Busy

The holidays aren’t just about traditions; they also prompt a flurry of activity in and out of school. Discover what level of activity is comfortable for this particular child and proceed from there. Some amount of busyness is healthy: it keeps at-risk youth from both boredom and getting into trouble if they’re left to their own devices.

5- Center on the Family

Home should be a safe, healthy place, especially for a child with extra needs. A good family structure makes home somewhere they want to come back to. There are child intervention services available to make every family strong. These include additional treatment options like therapy and connections with community resources that monitor an at-risk child’s behavioral improvement. Working with a care team is a relief for everyone. Your child will appreciate this extra investment, and you will know that they’re in good hands.

Collaboration between you and your child demonstrates support. You’re not leaving your child to navigate the holidays alone. Take time before the season starts to have those tough conversations and plan for their success together. Now you’re both ready for the holidays to begin. Don’t be surprised if there’s more than a little extra cheer to go around this year. Caring for an at-risk youth will make them feel merry and bright, too.