It’s the time of the year where large holiday gatherings abound. For families parenting children with a trauma history, these gatherings can be stressful for both youth and adults. Here are five tips to help your family navigate turkey, gifts, and extended family successfully.
Remind your child early and often about the gatherings coming up on your calendar. Help process with them who they will see, what the expectations will be, and how they feel about the event. If they feel concerned about the large crowd or navigating extended family, make a plan that allows them to take a break in a private space or let you know they need support with regulating their emotions.
As adults, we accept that the Holidays invoke mixed feelings of both joy and grief as we celebrate the present and reflect on important people in our lives who are no longer with us. Our kids are going through the same emotional roller coaster with less tools in their toolbox to manage those emotions. Give your child permission to grieve, accept when they’re stressed or unhappy, and validate their feelings. Provide outlets to help them express their feelings such as writing a letter to a birth family member, scheduling a visit, or otherwise honoring their losses.
Let them Choose
Many foster and adoptive youth inherit pre-existing holiday rituals and routines set by the adoptive family before they joined as a family member. Explore with your child any meaningful family or cultural traditions they may recall from the past, and incorporate these into your family. If there aren’t any, brainstorm how to implement one of their ideas. This will provide a sense of ownership for the child in the holiday experience and help cement their connection to you as you honor their heritage and history.
Lower your Expectations
As parents we often want to make perfect memories at this time of year. While we can certainly enjoy spending quality time with our children, the realities of parenting a child with trauma may require you to lower your expectations for both yourself and your child. Does your child seem ungrateful for gifts? Choose to focus on the joy you get from giving them. Does your child seem shy and hesitant to greet extended family members warmly? Respect their personal comfort level and don’t force that hug. Does your child have ADHD or struggle to sit still for long periods of time? Allow them to come and go at sit down events as needed.
Focus on the Basics
Holidays can be fun but also create a high degree of stress for families. While gifts, fancy décor, and annual traditions are nice, what your child needs most of all remains the same: you. Give the gift of yourself to your child and make special time just for them. Learning to play a new board game with you, making cookies, or taking a special drive to see the Holiday lights is the gift that will mean the most of all to your child.
Heidi Storey BA, Resource Family Coordinator, JFS Adoption & Foster Care, Mom to 5: 4 whom are adopted