When the Holidays are Hard for our Kids

Let’s face it, the holidays are a stressful time for many people. And our foster/adoptive kiddos have the added stress of processing trauma that can simply be triggered by the calendar this time of year.

So, what is a frazzled foster/adoptive mama to do? We want to give our kids quality memories of the holidays and we want to enjoy our time with our extended families while also honoring how hard this time can be for our kids. Below you will find some of my top tips for navigating the holidays with kids from hard places.

Four things to avoid:

  • Expectations– Avoid having the expectation of picture perfect moments and melt down free visits with extended family. We need to be realistic with our expectations of kids based on their chronological age and development, their trauma history, any sensory processing issues, etc. It’s okay to try an activity, realize it’s not working for your child and cut it short. Focus your expectations on your own behavior and responses to stressful moments.
  • Promises to others– While Aunt Hilda may expect that you will come decorate sugar cookies on Christmas Eve like you always have, avoid telling her you will definitely be there this year. Let friends and family know that you need to be responsive to your child’s needs and situation. Maybe the cookie decorating would be right up your childs alley or maybe it would be overstimulating and stressful. Let others know that you can’t promise attendance or participation in every extended family activity but will do what is best for your family.
  • Rigid schedules– If you’re anything like me, you like to cram as much into the holiday season as possible. After all, there are so many fun things to do this time of year. However, overscheduling your family and not being flexible about what is scheduled can lead to stress, conflict and sheer exhaustion for your entire family. Practice letting go of the planning a bit and enjoy whatever activities you end up being able to participate in.
  • Overstimulation: Kids who have a trauma history often do not tolerate overstimulation well. Their brains are already on high alert all the time and adding too much stimulation (even if it’s fun) can backfire on the most experienced parent. Be mindful of your child’s threshold for this and plan your holiday activities accordingly.

Four Things to Focus On:

  • Limits– Be aware of your own limitations and your child’s. If you know your child needs to stick to their bedtime schedule and routine, then don’t take them to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony two hours past their bedtime and expect smiles and giggles.
  • Simplicity– Keep your traditions and activities simple. Maintain your focus on the joy and meaning of the holidays rather than caving to the pressure society puts on us to have a Pinterest perfect holiday.
  • Fun– Goodness knows the holidays can be fun! Focus on the things your family enjoys and be okay with letting go of the rest. Your kiddos will look back and remember the nights you drove around to look at lights and the milk and cookies you left out for Santa more than they will remember a specific gift or over the top celebration.
  • New traditions– When you find something that works for your family, allow it to become a new tradition that replaces an old one that your child doesn’t respond well to. If you have older placements in your home, ask them their favorite thing about the holidays with their first families. Incorporate some of their traditions in your family to help them feel at ease and validated. We don’t always have to do what we’ve always done in order to enjoy the season.

How do you get through difficult moments during the holidays in your family?

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