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November 2020 – North Dakota Post Adopt Network
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Monthly Archives

November 2020

Handling the Holidays

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It’s that time of year when it seems as though we are cleaning up from one holiday, only to prepare for the next.  It starts with Halloween, jumps into Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s!  If any of you have stepped into any store since August, you might have noticed the décor that changes just as quickly as it’s displayed, whether it be Halloween costumes and candies, to fall décor and Thanksgiving turkeys, to Christmas trees, ornaments, presents, and treats.  Let’s not forget the treats and silly glasses to wear for New Year’s Eve!

These displayed items may bring back many delightful memories of your fun filled holidays spent with friends, family, and other loved ones!  Some of your fondest memories may include gathering with extended relatives and catching up on each other’s lives.  You may remember the laughter, not only from catching up with one another, but also of the cousins playing together.  You may remember the comforting aroma of your favorite dinner that was always at these holiday dinners.   Common rituals may have taken place at these fantastic holiday memories, like your grandfather saying grace before dinner, your father always cuts the turkey, and don’t forget about the boot hockey game played between dinner and dessert!

For our adoptive youth, holidays may be filled with a variety of stress.  Youth may feel an assortment of emotions – loss, guilt, or anxiety.  Triggers of smell, taste, or sounds may surround the youth during holidays.  Youth may have traditions with birth and/or former foster families and these activities might not be done in your home.  These stressors may be displayed in a variety of behaviors and/or emotions that aren’t typical.

Support your child during this time.  Be observant of any changes your child may be exhibiting.  Create time and a safe place to discuss behavior changes or variations in moods and emotions.  This time can be allowed to explore triggers your child may have revolving holiday time.  Create conversations with your child about their favorite memories they have with their birth family/foster families and go over their Life Book with them.

Become creative with additional ways to support your child might through these busy times.  Create a calming space for your child to take a break from the hustle and bustle.  In this calming space, have accessible items that help your child to reregulate, such as a comfy chair, fidgets to play with, or access to music.  Construct a safety plan with your family incase overwhelming feelings take over.  This safety plan could include a place to sneak away for a few minutes to reregulate or a word/phrase to use in case it’s deemed to leave altogether.  Consider changing up what you typically do for the holidays to ensure your child feels safe during the holiday time.  If going over for a large family gathering creates too much overload, consider celebrating in a smaller and calmer way.  Keep daily routines as best as possible, such as meal times and bed times.  These routines can help your child remain regulated, as they’re able to know when to expect important parts of their day.  Most importantly, continue to embrace your child and create holiday memories together.

For more ideas, check out Mike and Kristen Berry’s podcast, How to Help Your Child Regulate During the Holidays, at https://honestlyadoption.com/how-to-help-your-child-regulate-during-the-holidays/.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Darcy Solem, LBSW

6 Tips to Prepare Children for the Holiday Season

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It’s hard to believe that the holiday season is right around the corner. The upcoming holidays will be a welcome change in pace. This will be a time to make wonderful family and childhood memories. I have fond memories of holiday decorations, delicious meals and happy socialization.

While the upcoming holidays can be an exciting and joyful time for families, they can also trigger feelings within adopted children or in guardianship and become a challenging time for families. Holidays may trigger feelings of despair over past missed holidays or memories of painful experiences around holiday time. Children may be missing a number of important people -birth parents, foster parents, siblings or others who were meaningful in their lives.

Here are some tips from Pat Convery- executive Director of Adoption Council of Ontario for adoptive families to help them navigate through the holiday season.

1. Give plenty of notice about upcoming events
Giving children plenty of notice of upcoming family gatherings and not overwhelming them with too many gifts or activities at once can be very helpful. When a parent is sensitive to a child’s anxiety or hesitation before an event, they can better prepare for issues that may arise.

2. Prepare for both children and hosts prior to outings
Let family members know in advance that you may not stay for a long time and give them ideas of how they can prepare for your child. Take toys, food and activities with you that may be helpful for your child. Sometimes a walk outside in the fresh air or quiet time away from guests to help a child regroup may be needed and helpful for your child.

Talk to your child before an outing so they know what the general plan is. Set up ways that they can communicate with you if they are worried or need you for anything. Assure them that you are not expecting them to be perfectly behaved and will be happy to change the exit plan if necessary. It is particularly difficult when children are not able to articulate their pain and parents are scurrying around trying to make the holidays a joyful and fun time only to have their child appear sad or act out inappropriately.

3. Meaningful Gifts
Avoid the trap of overwhelming children with too many gifts. Two or three gifts that are well thought out and celebrations that are low key can allow time for the child to adapt to current family traditions and may prevent acting out behaviors.

Prior to an event, check in with hosts or guests who might be bringing your child gifts. It is important to make sure the gifts are appropriate for your child’s developmental level and interest.

4. Make room for birth family
Acknowledge a child’s memories of birth and foster family – both happy and sad memories. It may be helpful to set up a special visit with the birth family, however, it is important to make sure the child has time to prepare emotionally for a visit and regroup after without rushing to new activities. Take time to talk directly with birth or foster family members prior to any connection (even if the connection is a phone call) to make sure that adults are clear on boundaries, plans and have a chance to talk through any concerns about the visit.

You can help the child with honoring memories of birth family members by creating cards and stories or possibly making simple gifts even if they are not able to be delivered during the holiday season.

Holiday time is often a good time to revisit their Lifebook and encourage a child to share thoughts and feelings that arise at this emotional time.

5. Hugs Go A Long Way
Many children adopted from foster care or in guardianship do not feel like they deserve the attention given at holiday time and may even push parents away. An extra hug and a statement that you care for them can go a long way.

At the same time, many children feel uncomfortable with ‘forced hugs’ from new family members at gatherings. Help adults understand that ‘hugs’ can be given in many ways – high fives, a smile, throwing kisses – and not to always expect acknowledgment or ‘thanks’ from a child. You can always work with your child after the holiday to create a ‘thank you’ for a gift at a later date.

6. New family, new traditions
Most importantly, parents need to understand that they are not responsible for the ghosts of their child’s past. There is no “making up” for what your child may have lost, however, moving forward with your child and showing respect for what they have been through in the past is of the utmost importance. Creating new traditions as a family will go a long way to helping a child feel like they belong and are an important and special person in their new family.

— It is that happiness and those memories that make life go on. Even in those times of tragedy, you will always have the memories. With these memories come the stories of our life. Make time to acknowledge joyful moments and celebrate successes and triumphs, no matter how small, be it your own or someone else’s.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Kim Waswick, LBSW

Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Cycle of Rage

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When The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published in 2013, Asperger’s Syndrome was removed as a diagnosis and was placed as part of a larger category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Then known Asperger’s Syndrome is now classified as ASD with specifications.  Out of this respect, I will be using the acronym ASD to describe the previously referred to Asperger’s Syndrome.  Some symptoms of ASD in children include, but are not limited to eye contact resistance, missing social cues (body language or facial expressions), minimal emotion expression, and may dislike change.  Only mental health experts can diagnose ASD.

It makes a lot of sense why children diagnosed with ASD experience more stress and anxiety that may lead to more behavioral problems compared to a child without the diagnosis.  I couldn’t image how frustrating and confusing it would be to be challenged daily with understanding social cues in an unpredictable world.  Following research from Albert (1989), Beck (1987), and Myles and Southwick (2005) The Cycle of Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns was developed to help parents, teachers, and professionals understand and prevent tantrums of children with ASD.  This cycle is broken down into three stages:

1. The Rumbling Stage:  This initial stage can often times be over-looked as signs of this stage may be as minor as the child clearing their throat or a seemly harmless grimace.  Other potential signs of the rumbling stage may include, but are not limited to tapping their foot, lowering their voice, a scowl, rapid movements, or fidgeting.   You know your child better than anyone, so with some intentional observing you’ll begin to see patterns in behavior changes leading up to a potential meltdown. Once you’ve been able to identify precipitating events prior to challenging behaviors, these interventions can be used:

    1. Antiseptic bouncing which simply means removing the child from the environment in a non-punitive manner.
    2. Proximity control meaning standing near the child, as this simple gesture can be calming.
    3. Signal interference is discretely getting the child’s attention, making eye contact, and letting them know they are rumbling with a pre-agreed upon “secret signal”.
    4. Support from routine is creating a visibly-displayed schedule of events that can help provide security and predictability for the child.
    5. Just walk don’t talk is that, simply stated, walking with your child while remaining silent. Again, be sure this removal is done in a non-punitive manner.  The child should be presented with a safe comfortable environment to share whatever they wish without fear or judgment.
    6. Redirection is refocusing the child’s attention on something else that is not what may be causing the rumbling stage.
    7. Home base is a safe room or area of the room for the child to access with only a couple of items or activities for the child to use. Be sure the items and activities are meant to be calming and relaxing.  Overstimulation can increase escalation of the child.

***It’s important to note these tips are meant for de-escalation purposes “in the moment” and are not self-regulating or reflecting techniques.

2. The Rage Stage:  At this point the child has escalated past the rumbling stage and is now exhibiting more noticeable and/or disruptive signs.  These are including but not limited to yelling, kicking, withdrawing, swearing, biting, self-harming, or destroying property.  In this stage the number one emphasis should be on safety of all involved including the child.  Safety plan development prior to getting to this stage is pertinent.  Most often this plan will include calling for assistance, removing others from the situation, assessing for safety risks and removing them, therapeutic restraint (only if certificated and confident in your ability to perform), and lastly contacting dispatch if the child continues to escalate and safety is a concern.

3. The Recovery Stage:  It is not unusual for children with ASD to not remember what occurred after a meltdown.  In this stage, children may feel physically and emotionally exhausted, withdrawn, or even reject the antecedents occurred.  It is important for parents to address what happened with the child and re-establish or adjust the safety plan with them, but during this stage children are typically not in a place to learn and contribute.  Addressing it at a later time is recommended as if addressed in this stage it could just lead to another escalation.  Parents can help kids adjust out of the recovery stage by proposing the child complete a simple, highly-motivating task, specifically related to something the child is interested in like walking the dog or helping mom with the grocery shopping.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Brittney Engelhard, LBSW

For more information about the cycle and resources to help facilitate sensory awareness, reference the following:



How Does Your Engine Run:  The Alert Program for Self-Regulation (Williams & Shellenberger, 1996)

The Tool Chest for Teachers, Parents, and Students (Henry Occupational Therapy Service, Inc., 1998)

Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Issues: Practical Solutions for Making Sense of the World (Myles, Cook, Miller, Rinner, & Robbins, 2000)

Holidays and Celebrations

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Holidays are such a fun and memorable time for families to participate in different traditions, rituals, events, and/or activities. Going to a pumpkin patch, sleigh rides, baking, seeing Santa, Easter egg hunting, and overall spending time with family and friends. Who doesn’t love the holidays? As a prior case manager for youth in foster care, the time from October to January seemed to be some of the hardest for families and children navigating the foster care, guardianship, and adoption world. Children and youth would be thriving, then out of nowhere, would very much struggle with daily events that prior to this time frame were generally positive experiences. Through plenty of conversations with team members, it is noted that kids within foster care, guardianship, and adoption greatly struggle with time around the holidays.  Holidays can trigger unresolved grief, emotions, and memories the child may have  experienced with birth family. Even though they are happy where they are at with their guardianship or adoptive family, it also makes them wonder if their birth family is thinking of them on special days, celebrations, and occasions.  Not only are holidays difficult, but celebrations can also be triggering for some children and families. These celebrations can include birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day.

While holidays and celebrations can be more difficult for children and families, this holiday season may look even more different than due to COVID, which can create additional stress and lack of support. Families may be having to change normal holiday routines and traditions this year, which can create additional stressors in an already difficult season.

Below are some ways to help children through holidays and celebrations.

  • Ask your child what special traditions or rituals they participated in with their birth family throughout the holidays. Once you and your child have that conversation, you can begin implementing those traditions and rituals into your family holidays. A fun idea is to create a craft or bake a treat in remembrance of their birth family. This can occur on their birth parents birthdays or Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
  • Keep schedules and routines consistent, for the most part. For many children, having a routine and schedule helps them to know what to expect next. Schedules and routines can change during the holidays and different celebrations due to excitement, but for children who have been adopted or in guardianship, those schedules and routines can make them feel in control.
  • While it may be difficult to not take the behavior or reaction to a certain holiday or celebration personally, it is important to remember the negative behavior or reaction is generally stemming from their grief with their past. Validate their emotions and feelings leading up to a certain holiday or celebration and let them know it is normal to have the feelings they are experiencing.

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Jaclyn Stroehl, LBSW