Tulalip Healing—Families and Children this Holiday Season

By Kara Briggs Campbell, Tulalip News

TULALIP, Wash – The holidays will be different at the Tulalip Tribes this year.

Gratitude, an important part of any holiday season, is made more important because of the losses that have occurred since the Oct. 24 shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

“I hold in my thoughts all the people who have their kids around the table, and the ones that have that empty seat in my thoughts,” said Leila Goldsmith, the director of the Tulalip Tribes’ Legacy of Healing Children’s Advocacy Center. “I hold mine a little closer because I think wouldn’t that mom want us to hold our kids closer.”

For children who seek care or are referred at the center, the recent events are raising questions as big as life and death, and wonders about how we will ever celebrate this holiday season without in a time of trauma and grief.

For families, Gurjeet Sidhu, a child therapist at the center, the most important thing that parents can do now for their children is to listen to them.

“Knowing where your child is can let you know if they are internalizing the tragedy negatively,” Sidhu said.

This could mean that child is wondering if they had prayed harder, of if they had checked on someone more, or could they have been nicer if they had only known this one or that one would be gone.

“Parents remind your kids that they couldn’t have done anything,” Sidhu said. “Tell them that they don’t control the world.”

In this season when every news flash potentially triggers more traumas in our community, the act of listening and hearing even a child’s non-verbal communication will be the best gift that parents and trusted adults can give.

And as children turn their attention to the holidays, the question that arises is, will it be the same this year?

Sidhu recommends, responding with a question, “What do you think?” Then listen.

“I haven’t heard any children say no to the holidays yet,” she said. “But I have heard kids saying I wish that this hadn’t happened.”

For younger kids, who still believe that Santa Claus will come and make everything right, parents need to be stronger and protect the magical thinking while the child still has it because, because, Sidhu said, we will all get to be adults soon enough.

“Personally, if your family has holiday rituals like gathering around the holiday dinner table keep that going so you keep the traumatic memory from attaching to the holiday,” Sidhu said.

The holiday traditions have a rhythm that can help keep everyone in the family engaged in the holiday even in hard times like these. You might not feel like it, but once you start decorating, baking cookies or whatever your tradition, the familiar activities will inspire you and your children.

“In times like these we need to talk with our children about our core values, our spiritual belief, our family traditions,” Sidhu said. “And then if you are a family that has a ritual of gathering at the dinner table, do it even more now.”

At a banquet that the Tulalip Tribes held last month for the first responders to the tragedy, Goldsmith heard people talk about the new normal now that these recent events have entered the history of the Tribes.

The young ones us are asking questions about how can they help the people around them, even as they are experiencing loss in a deeper way than maybe they ever have before.

Some children have shared with Sidhu that they cried two hours straight for everything that ever went bad, while others are feeling things that have happened even recently more deeply.

“My message is it’s OK to cry, totally OK. You aren’t going to stress out the adults around you because you are crying,” Sidhu said. “The children need to know now that, ‘you are loved and you are safe.’”