The Holiday Season Reminds Us Of Our Strengths


The day before Thanksgiving, I was in an elevator with a man, who said, “I love Thanksgiving.  It’s the only holiday of the year that no one feels discriminated against or lonely.”  As we continued to talk, he told me that he was Jewish, and that he frequently felt lonely and stressed during the Christmas holidays.  That same day, The New York Times ran an article featuring the powerful perspectives of four Native American writers on the holiday.  As Sherman Alexie, one of the writers, said in that article, for many Native Americans Thanksgiving is a “really sad holiday…that commemorates the beginning of the end for us, the death of a culture.”

“And so,” I remember thinking, “the holiday season is upon us.”  A complicated time for many.  Holidays can represent a time to access one’s informal supports or tap into family strengths.  They also can be a time when the absence of supports, or struggles in family relationships, can seem more apparent and be more acutely experienced.  As John Lyons often says, we must look to the interaction of the individual and the environment to understand strengths, which are characteristics of the individual and/or environment that promote health and well-being.  The traditions and rituals of holidays can create a context highlighting strengths – when individuals and families are able to feel connected to one another or proud of their shared cultural or religious identity. Family, Natural Supports, and Spiritual/Religious observance are strengths, identified in the CANS Core, that may help individuals tap into a sense of community and connection during the holidays.

Family

Family strength is rooted in positive mutually supportive family relationships.  In the spirit of good will, families often leave their petty squabbles behind them and try to enjoy one another’s company around the holidays. Even families that struggle to get along work to develop a bit more tolerance of and acceptance for individual differences that cause family friction. Identifying and using family supports can help harried or lonely individuals get through the hectic holidays –family members might contribute to the cooking of meals, share caregiving responsibilities while visiting or hosting, or coordinate shopping to help reduce the stress felt around this time of year. Family members who have little contact during the year often reach out to one another during important holidays, reminding themselves and each other of the connection and history between them.

Natural Supports

Emotional and practical support from friends, community members, church members, or neighbors can constitute significant strength during stressful times.  For those who are not close to their families geographically or emotionally, the holidays are also a time for a strengthening of natural supports. For example, a friend whose family lives out of town always spends Christmas day with her “Chicago family,” which keeps her connected to the holiday and not celebrating alone. Natural supports are also activated through an increased cultural focus on volunteering during the holiday season, as people give of their time and money to help others.  Even though consumerism has a hold on some holiday practices, many take this time to support friends and their broader community through gift giving or volunteer work.

Spiritual/Religious

The presence of spiritual or religious practices that guide and support individuals and families can be a significant strength.  While many may celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, or Kwanza as secular cultural holidays, with a focus on giving, eating, and coming together, others experience these holidays as a time to celebrate faith and spirituality.  Kwanza celebrates communitarian philosophy, emphasizing identity, community, and unity as an organizing world view.  Hanukah celebrates the transcendence of dark over light, generosity over famine.  Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, and highlights the presence of sacredness and grace among all peoples.  Alongside traditions of gathering and giving are rituals, religious services, and spiritual traditions that highlight coming together as a community and reaffirming purpose, meaning, and connectedness.

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FAMILY STRENGTHS – This item refers to the presence of a sense of family identity as well as love and communication among family members. Even families who are struggling often have a firm foundation that consists of a positive sense of family and strong underlying love and commitment to each other.  These are the constructs this strength is intended to identify. As with Family Functioning, the definition of family comes from the child/youth’s perspective (i.e., who the child/youth describes as family). If this information is not known, then we recommend a definition of family that includes biological/adoptive relatives and their significant others with whom the child/youth is still in contact.
Ratings & Descriptions
0 Well-developed or centerpiece strength; may be used as a protective factor and a centerpiece of a strength-based plan.
Family has strong relationships and significant family strengths.  This level indicates a family with much love and respect for one another.  There is at least one family member who has a strong loving relationship with the child/youth and is able to provide significant emotional or concrete support.  Child/youth is fully included in family activities.
1 Useful strength is evident but requires some effort to maximize the strength. Strength might be used and built upon in treatment.
Family has some good relationships and good communication. Family members are able to enjoy each other’s company.   There is at least one family member who has a strong, loving relationship with the child/youth and is able to provide limited emotional or concrete support.
2 Strengths have been identified but require significant strength building efforts before they can be effectively utilized as part of a plan.
Family needs some assistance in developing relationships and/or communications. Family members are known, but currently none are able to provide emotional or concrete support.
3 An area in which no current strength is identified; efforts are needed to identify potential strengths.
Family needs significant assistance in developing relationships and communications, or child/youth has no identified family.  Child/youth is not included in normal family activities.

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NATURAL SUPPORTS – Refers to unpaid helpers in the child/youth’s natural environment. These include individuals who provide social support to the target child/youth and family. All family members and paid caregivers are excluded.
Ratings & Descriptions
0 Well-developed or centerpiece strength; may be used as a protective factor and a centerpiece of a strength-based plan.
Child/youth has significant natural supports that contribute to helping support the child/youth’s healthy development.
1 Useful strength is evident but requires some effort to maximize the strength. Strength might be used and built upon in treatment.
Child/youth has identified natural supports that provide some assistance in supporting the child/youth’s healthy development.
2 Strengths have been identified but require significant strength building efforts before they can be effectively utilized as part of a plan.
Child/youth has some identified natural supports however the child/youth is not actively contributing to the child/youth’s healthy development.
3 An area in which no current strength is identified; efforts are needed to identify potential strengths.
Child/youth has no known natural supports (outside of family and paid caregivers).

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SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS – This item refers to the child/youth’s experience of receiving comfort and support from religious or spiritual involvement. This item rates the presence of beliefs that could be useful to the child/youth; however an absence of spiritual/religious beliefs does not represent a need for the family.
Ratings & Descriptions
0 Well-developed or centerpiece strength; may be used as a protective factor and a centerpiece of a strength-based plan.
Child/youth is involved in and receives comfort and support from spiritual and/or religious beliefs, practices and/or community.  Child/youth may be very involved in a religious community or may have strongly held spiritual or religious beliefs that can sustain or comfort the child/youth in difficult times.
1 Useful strength is evident but requires some effort to maximize the strength. Strength might be used and built upon in treatment.
Child/youth is involved in and receives some comfort and/or support from spiritual and/or religious beliefs, practices and/or community.
2 Strengths have been identified but require significant strength building efforts before they can be effectively utilized as part of a plan.
Child/youth has expressed some interest in spiritual or religious belief and practices.
3 An area in which no current strength is identified; efforts are needed to identify potential strengths.
There is no evidence of identified spiritual or religious beliefs, nor does the child/youth show any interest in these pursuits at this time.

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