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Trauma Informed Thanksgiving

Trauma Informed Thanksgiving

7 Quick Tips to a More 
Trauma-Informed Thanksgiving

While most of us look forward to the holidays with anxious anticipation and excitement, people who’ve experienced trauma and loss can often find this season painfully difficult.

As we gather friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers together around the table this week, let’s be mindful of how the holidays might hit some people differently, and how we might be able to approach others with warmth and compassion, through a trauma-informed lens.

People of ALL ages with a history of trauma or loss may experience various symptoms during this season…especially if the trauma occurred with loved ones or around the holidays. These may include:

  • Thinking about the person, memory, or loss more (or less) than usual.
  • Sleeping more (or less) than usual.
  • Increase in headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, depression, or panic attacks.
  • Increase in intrusive or negative thoughts, and flash backs.
  • Increase in self harm or suicidal thoughts.
  • Increased sensitivity to certain comments & looks from others.
  • Increased sensitivity to chaos and loss of routine.
  • Sensitivity to certain smells, sounds, and holiday images.

Battling these symptoms, as well as the thoughts that accompany them, can be exhausting. No wonder so many of ALL ages struggle with anger, short tempers, melt downs, and other difficulties regulating themselves during this season.

Why a trauma-informed lens?

“Becoming trauma-informed equips us to meet people where they’re at and shapes the way we love people into our families, communities, and churches.” – Lindy Green

A trauma-informed lens allows us to help rather than unintentionally hurt, judge, or shame. It also frees us from taking big (and sometimes hurtful) reactions and responses personally.

Different Perspective

So, let’s start with a shift in perspective. In order to develop a compassionate attitude toward ALL people (because we never know what hard road someone may be walking), it can be helpful to approach others with the right question in mind this holiday season.

When irritating or challenging behaviors arise, rather than asking, “What is WRONG with this person?,” let’s shift the script a bit and ask, “What happened to this person?”

This allows us to separate people from their behaviors and enables us to see this child, teen or adult as “having a hard time,” rather than “giving us a hard time.”

In addition, here’s 7 very practical strategies to help you welcome, support and love those around your table who may be struggling with trauma:

  1. Lead with compassion

This perspective shift empowers us to approach with curiosity and compassion.

When we view a person through the lens of trauma, we recognize the fact that their reactions may not be their true self coming out, but rather their behavior might actually be the hurt showing up.

  1. Let go of perfection.

Be aware of your expectations…for yourself as well as your family and extended family. Meet family, friends, neighbors and coworkers where they’re at.

In addition, if this season is especially difficult for you or your child, give yourself permission to say “no” to extra stuff. Ask yourselves: “Do we really have the emotional, physical, and mental energy to add this to our schedule?”

  1. Consistency and routine.

Maintain stabilizing routines as much as possible, such as bedtime routines, periodic check-ins (“How’re you doing?”), and consistent meals.

When routines and schedules will be affected, discuss this ahead of time…especially with friends or family members who may dysregulate easily or have a hard time transitioning from one activity (or plan) to the next.

You might also need to adjust in other ways, as needed. Think: a shorter stay with family…or giving extended family a heads up if you or your child are struggling right now.

  1. Balance Activity and Rest

Schedule downtime to relax, recharge, take a break from the hustle and bustle. Perhaps gather your family and take a walk or play outside.

Be mindful of overstimulation, especially with so many people, foods, sounds, smells, etc. If you know someone may be struggling, perhaps it would be helpful to offer them a back bedroom or porch where they can retreat for a few minutes of quiet, to collect their thoughts or to breathe, as needed. Consider showing them the location of the bathroom, extra water/snacks, a cozy blanket, or anything else that might help them feel more grounded.

  1. Healthy Touch

Touch calms the neurochemistry, disarms fear, and increases connection. Ask permission first, and consider handshakes, hugs, high 5’s, knuckle bumps, placing a hand on their shoulder, etc.

A note about touch: allow for choice here, especially if there’s a history of abuse or sensory processing issues. Rather than requiring a child, teen, or young adult to hug all the relatives, consider offering choices: “Would you prefer to give hugs today or fist bumps?”

  1. Blood Sugar and Hydration

Think back to the last time you were really hungry. How did that affect your mood? Your motivation? Your behavior? Consider maintaining consistent meal times and offering food or healthy snacks and water every two to three hours in order to keep everyone’s blood sugar even-keeled.

  1. Play!

During play, fear is disarmed and our brains are fully connected. The holidays provide plenty of unique playful and fun opportunities. Look for ways to play together and connect with each other this season, such as family games, holiday crafts, sleigh rides, count the santa’s while running errands, build gingerbread houses, etc.

As we gather friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers together around the table this week, let’s be mindful of those who may be dealing with trauma or loss. May we separate people from their behaviors and see them as having a hard time (vs. giving us a hard time). May we approach with empathy and compassion through a trauma-informed lens.


If you’d like to learn more about trauma and practical trauma-informed strategies for parents, teachers, coaches, ministers, and churches, give me a call or follow me on the socials.

If you have a teen or young adult who is struggling with symptoms related to possible trauma, contact me to schedule a free consultation. Let’s see if counseling might be a good fit.

Several of these practical strategies are gleaned from the Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis. For more information, visit this website: TBRI  or contact me. I’m a TBRI trained practitioner!

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