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