Adapting Christmas for Adopted Kids

 

Today’s post is from our friends, Colleen & Dave Little. They are the parents of three grown men and two vivacious young-adult daughters who joined their family through adoption. Together, Dave & Colleen meet with and minister to parents whose adopted children struggle with the effects of significant pre-adoption trauma.

For many adopted children with a history of chronic neglect, pre-natal brain injury, or childhood abuse, the holidays can be extremely challenging times – for everyone! The following is a short list to help parents maintain some peace and sanity during this season.

1. Take time to pay attention to each child.

First and foremost, our children crave massive amounts of attentiveness. What happens during the holidays? Parents often get busy with other stuff. Cooking, extended family visiting, church and school Christmas programs, shopping trips, and on it goes. Our children are hyper-sensitive that the parent’s time and energy is not coming to them. This is especially true with adoptees whose implicit memory banks are packed full of parental neglect. They feel it and react to it and for the most part, cannot help themselves. Possible solution? Try to set aside uninterrupted time each day with each child. Even just 15 minutes a day may be enough. No phone calls, email, or other distractions. Let your child direct this time with you and have fun with them. Let them really feel your complete attentiveness coming their way.

2. Help create a sense of safety and predictability.

Many children, but especially those with trauma histories, learn to manage life in the context of structure and stability. The holidays usually offer little of that! Possible solutions? Prepare your child by counting down the last seven days to the break. Sit down as a family, come up with a plan and discuss it together. As the parent, you can give strong direction to the plan, but let them have a voice as well. Providing some daily constants will help your child feel safe. Put up a calendar on the wall to show the plan you made. Trauma leaves our children feeling like they don’t have any control. An agreed-upon plan with visible expectations to which they themselves have contributed can reduce a good deal of kids’ anxiety and stress.

3. Try to limit “big sensory inputs”.

Think carefully on how to reduce the bigness of Christmas. This is hard to do since every cultural and church message is making a big deal of Christmas. Children get sucked in and cannot manage their emotions or actions very well. Many don’t yet have the ability to set limits or inhibit impulses, and the sensory inputs of the holidays confuse and overwhelm them even more. An example of this is the child whose anxiety drives her to spend all day shopping for and wrapping just a few small gifts, only to threaten to throw them away the next day.

Possible solutions? Take charge of Christmas by setting boundaries. This might include reducing the number of programs and services you attend, limiting days that you have visitors in your home, placing price limits on gifts or even rethinking the gift-opening ceremony itself. Some children cannot handle the surprise of gifts or waiting for the day. For them, just quietly hand them their gift(s) at some other time, or shop with them and let them choose. Other families we know forego gift-giving all together and spend the day serving others as a family, or giving their Christmas money to an agreed-upon charity. Mom and Dad, feel fully free to change your traditions to fit the complexities of your new family by changing old traditions and starting new ones!

In short, pay close attention to your child. Try to limit sensory-rich inputs, slow down and give your child a voice in what happens. Whether they say so or or not, kids really do need lots of you, and even more so during the hectic Christmas season.

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