Many adoptive and foster parents are beginning to wonder how they will get through this holiday season. For children who come from backgrounds of abandonment, abuse, grief and loss, exposure to prenatal substances, or trauma, the holidays can bring many challenges. School parties, church programs, family gatherings, an over packed schedule, sugary treats, and sensory overload can all contribute to behavioral dysregulation in children who have experienced early harm.
Children may have conflicting feelings and triggers from past holiday memories with their biological families. Even children who came home as infants often experience a deep sense of loss and many unanswered questions about their own histories. Internationally adopted children may long for the traditions and culture of their former country.
The ideas shared in this post are largely from a model called Trust-Based Relational Intervention®, developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis and her colleague, Dr. David Cross, from The Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University.
How do we connect with our children, as they seem to be spinning out of control with the grief, anticipation, and excitement of the holidays?
First, we must remain mindful of how painful the holidays can be for our children. This is not the time to tell them how grateful they should be. They’ve experienced tremendous loss that is triggered by all the family togetherness. In order to truly be emotionally present, we can’t overcrowd our schedules so that we allow time for talking with and comforting our children. It may mean we can’t make as many homemade goodies or go as extravagant with the Christmas decorations. We have to intentionally put the relationship before the tasks – easier said than done, I know….
Second, we have to be proactive in practicing the skills they will need for family gatherings and parties. Help them learn what to say if they don’t want to participate in an activity or if they aren’t comfortable hugging Uncle Fred. It is important that we give them a voice and not force them to be hugged by someone they don’t know well. Practice and role-play strategies for calming down when they first feel stressed. Deep breathing and deep pressure such as wall push-ups, chair pull-ups, a firm back rub, or squeezing a stress ball help to calm the central nervous system.
Third, try to keep structure in place such as bedtime routines, schedules, family meals, snacks, sensory activities, and quiet times. When going to a holiday gathering, make it predictable letting the child know what to expect so that she feels safe. Anticipate potential issues and have a plan. For example, come up with a hand signal for your child to use if he is feeling overwhelmed and needs a walk or a break from an over-stimulating event. Share in your child’s joy and laughter as well as the pain and loss.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
How can you help make the holidays easier for your family?
By Debra Delulio Jones, M.Ed.
Wife of Alan Jones
Mom of one biological daughter and one adopted son
1 Corinthians 13 Team Member
Founder and Director of Parent Intervention & Training
Debra’s book is available on the Parent Intervention & Training website.
Join Becky Danielson, Matt Haviland, Misty Honnold, and Lori Wildenberg at the 2017 Kansas City HeartCORe Single Parent Conference January 21. Click HERE for more information and to register.