Enjoying the Holidays with Your Family: Adoption & Fostering
The holiday’s are full of wonderful opportunities to connect and celebrate with your family. They can also be complicated and stressful for those who are parenting children who have experienced loss. You may find yourself needing to respond with sensitivity to some big feelings at this time of year. Exploring Tips for Enjoying the Holidays with your Family was the goal of today’s Facebook Live Event hosted by Adoptive Families Association of BC. Together Rebecca and I discussed what makes the holidays tough for some kids, offered some tips for making the most of this season and suggested a few ways parents can take care of themselves. I’ve summarized the highlights from today’s conversation for anyone who was unable to join us or would like a reminder they can carry with them over the next few weeks.
Why are the holidays a difficult time for a child who has spent time in care?
The holidays are full of sensory experiences. Children store early memories in their senses. When these memories are triggered by sensory experiences in the present children may FEEL things from the past without understanding what is happening. Otherwise neutral sights, sounds, smells can trigger the memory of a previous experience. There are often no words to talk about this, just BIG feelings. You might notice either a ramp up or shut down reaction.
Children have expectations that Christmas is supposed to make them feel a certain way. They anticipate this ‘feel good’ experience. If this doesn’t work out there can be so much disappointment and distress. Some kids will look for a ‘reason’ and often that leads to blaming others like mom or dad, siblings, etc. They so desperately want to feel good and its so hard when they don’t.
Anticipatory anxiety about upcoming events or activities that they will be expected to participate in. There is a fear of the discomfort that may occur. This can lead to resistance to participation or high energy/frantic behavior.
Three top tips for helping your family enjoy the holiday’s?
Be conscious of decidingwhat activities, events, family gatherings are best for your family to participate in. This will vary depending on how long you have been a family and how regulated your children are in different settings. Not everything that could be fun will be fun if it’s more than your children can handle or requires more of you than you have to give. Doing less and enjoying it will create more meaningful memories than hitting every Christmas highlight and constantly managing meltdowns or days of recovery.
Create a holiday structure for your days that offers predictable routines. This may look different than your everyday schedule but it can still be consistent. Children with anticipatory anxiety will manage better if they know what’s happening ahead of time and can predict parts of their day. Have a visual calendar. Review the day plan. Talk about expectations and highlight their feel good activities. Think about how much they can manage on regular days and lower expectations to account for the intensity and overwhelm that holiday experiences can bring.
Keep them close! Children can’t always initiate asking for help when they need it. If you are within an arm’s reach or have them in your visual field you can better anticipate and meet needs. This reduces the need for disruptive or inappropriate responses. Think this through, make a plan! How will I keep them close when we are at Grandma’s? When we are at the store? When we are walking to look at lights?
What are some self care options for parents during the holiday’s?
The kindest thing you can do for yourself is tofront load your own brain with realistic expectations of what you can do and what your children can manage. The ‘magic’ of Christmas will NOT magically make your children handle things that they otherwise can not handle. And then they find it is in fact quite the opposite. Your children are more likely to regress during high intensity experiences, even when they are positive experiences.
Choose one holiday tradition or experience that is important to you as a parent and PLAN so that you can enjoy it. You will need to make sure the kids are fed, rested and have the tools they need to make the experience successful. Ask yourself, what do they need from me to make this experience as successful as possible. Then thank them for helping your make a wonderful memory. Every other thing you do for the holidays’ will likely be for them so be aware of what makes your heart happy. And don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out perfectly. You tried and you will try again next year.
Have your feelings. Stop trying to feel the ‘right’ thing. Your feelings aren’t wrong. They just are. How you choose to respond to your feelings is where you choose to be a therapeutic parent and put your child’s needs first. But those feelings are all yours and they don’t need a critic or a supervisor or a screening committee. It’s OK to be sad, disappointed, angry or hurt when things don’t work out. Acknowledge your feelings without criticism, feel them, share them with someone you trust. Now you can move on with the business of parenting and enjoying the holiday’s with your family.
A Child’s Songoffers support services for children and families who have been joined together through foster care or adoption. If your family is needing some extra support through the holiday’s you can schedule a session with one of our clinical therapists or social workers. We offer services in office, by phone and Skype. If you have any questions about the services we offer please feel free to contact us.