Inclusive Strategies to Help Students Navigate Holidays

By adopting inclusive strategies to honor holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day in the classroom, schools can create an environment where all students feel seen, heard, and supported.

Topics: Health and Wellness

As educators, one of your primary responsibilities is to create a safe and nurturing environment for all students. However, certain occasions like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can inadvertently trigger grief or complex emotions for some children, especially those who have experienced the loss of a parent or caregiver.

Honoring Diverse Family Structures

Gone are the days of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day activities in schools centered on the nuclear family dynamic. As educators know, this narrow perspective fails to consider the diverse range of family structures and circumstances that exist within our classrooms.

Some students may have parents who are incarcerated, on military deployment, or separated from the family. Others might be in foster care settings or living with extended family members. Additionally, there are children who have lost a parent or caregiver due to various reasons. It’s important that schools take steps to minimize inadvertently marginalizing or causing emotional distress to these students.

Embracing Inclusivity

As educators, you have the opportunity to reframe your approach to these holidays, ensuring that no child feels excluded or forced to confront painful memories. By adopting a more inclusive perspective, based on these three strategies below, you can create an environment where all students feel seen, heard, and supported.

  • Introduce Activities Thoughtfully: When introducing Mother’s Day or Father’s Day activities, use broad and inclusive language that acknowledges the diverse family structures and circumstances present in your classroom. For example, “Today, we’ll be doing an activity where you can focus on your mother, father, or any other important caregiver in your life. This could be someone you’re close to now or someone who has been significant in the past.”
  • Reach Out to Vulnerable Students: If you are aware of students who have experienced the loss of a parent or caregiver, approach them privately before introducing the activity. Explain what you have planned and give them the option to participate or engage in an alternative activity. Assure them that they will not be called upon to share their work with the class unless they volunteer to do so.
  • Understand Grief Triggers and Have a Plan: Grief can be triggered by various events in a school setting, and the intensity of the response can vary from student to student. Be prepared to provide a safe space for students to process their emotions, such as the school counselor’s office, the library, or a quiet corner in the hallway.

Embracing inclusivity leads to a learning environment that celebrates the diversity of our students’ experiences while also providing the necessary support and understanding for those who might be navigating complex emotions.

These simple steps can make a genuine difference for grieving students. Find more information at the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, including the module on grief triggers for educators.