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Dad’s Retreat from a Coordinator’s Perspective

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This weekend I was honored to be a fly on the wall during our first annual virtual Dad’s Retreat, led by the infamous Mike Berry with Honestly Adoption Co. I have to admit; it took me a minute to feel like I wasn’t invading this sacred safe space for Dads.  “Would my presence deter them from feeling comfortable enough to share openly?”  Despite my concerns, the dads didn’t seem to be phased by my presence.  Here are a few takeaways I gained from being a part of the retreat.

Men are not emotionless as society often encourages them to be.  Some may be more in tune with their emotions than some women if given a safe, supportive forum such as the retreat.  It was genuinely heartwarming watching the men “raising their glasses” to each other, relating to each other, exchanging contact information, and lifting each other up.

Men often feel the pressure to “fix” their family problems, which is an unrealistic role for them to take on.  This doesn’t mean their instincts are to be hard on their struggling or traumatized children or spouse, but more often hard on themselves.  Some may take on responsibility for their family as a whole, which is too much pressure to take on.  A very crucial point Mike would address throughout the retreat was the importance of not only self-care but self-compassion.

Mike connected this “fixer” mentality with a book he referenced called The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik.  A carpenter is representative of all parents who do all they can to maintain their family.  Although their heart is in the right place, “fixing” may not be what their family needs from them.  Rather than be a fixer, Mike encouraged the dads to be a gardener instead.  Nurture your spouse and children, and do your best to model morals and values.  Accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go your way, especially if you have traumatized children in your home.  Your spouse doesn’t need things fixed, sometimes all they want is for you to listen.

Dads, be kind to yourselves.  You are enough and just what your family needs.

Disclaimer:  These thoughts and ideas are not consistent across the board with all family units, simply observations based on retreat attendees.

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

5 Parenting Tips When You Have a Challenging Child

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When you have a challenging child, sometimes it feels like you are slogging through mud in the trenches of life. It’s hard to see your way out of the struggle or to remember that there are days that you feel like you are succeeding at this thing called parenting.

However, we all have those days when success in parenting feels like an impossible goal. Maybe you are parenting an adopted, guardianship or foster child who has experienced trauma or abuse. Perhaps they have brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs. Maybe they are not sleeping most nights because they still don’t feel entirely safe enough just yet – no matter how gentle and predictable you’ve crafted your nighttime routine to be. Whatever the reason, some kids are simply more challenging to parent.

When you are in the trenches of parenting a challenging child, it’s hard to see a way out of the struggle. In those hard times, you need some “quick” tips and tricks to help you cope. Read over these tips every week until you start to climb your way out of the parenting depths.

  1. Practice self-care.

Our number one recommendation before you do anything else is to take care of yourself. You’ve heard the airplane analogy, but it’s true. “You have to put on your air mask before you can help someone else.” Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring your family and to your challenging child, so you must find a way regularly to recharge.

Take an afternoon to walk in a local park. Go window shopping (or actual shopping) at the mall by yourself. Spend a Saturday morning at Starbucks. Schedule a monthly massage, plan for a regular exercise class. Sing in the church choir. Block out your calendar for a daily run. Whatever feeds your soul and brings you joy qualifies as self-care, and should be a priority in your calendar.

Your sanity and energy are the most important thing you bring to your family and your challenging child, therefore you must find a way regularly to recharge.

  1. Find your person.

Finding your person is similar to self-care, with a similar analogy: When your battery is dead, you need to connect with a live cell to recharge. Who is your live battery? Who can you connect with when you are in the trenches? Who will understand and support you? It would help if you had an online or in-person friend who’s been where you’re at, a therapist, your spouse, or all three. Find your person and let them know that you are struggling and will need to lean on them to help you through the hard days.

  1. Educate yourself about the impacts of trauma.

The more you learn about the forces that shaped this child, the better equipped you can be to cope and parent this child. Read or listen to interviews about the impact of trauma on a child. Learn about how alcohol and drug exposure during pregnancy can leave their mark. Begin to understand how your temperament, personality, and attachment style influence how you respond to this child.

  1. Cut your challenging child — and yourself — some slack.

Cultivate empathy for your child. When you are in the thick of the struggles, that might feel like a tall order, once they are asleep (and looking angelic), remind yourself of what happened to them that brought them to this place. Focus on the fact that your child is not purposely trying to drive you crazy and make you feel like a failure.

While you are thinking compassionately about your child, direct some empathetic thoughts inward. What issues from your past are you bringing to this interaction? Do you hate conflict because of your own family of origin? Do you crave order and structure in your life to feel secure? Does your love language conflict with your child’s? For example, do you want physical affection, but this child expresses love through being helpful? Be kind to yourself while teaching yourself to be compassionate for your child’s path.

  1. Play together!

Never underestimate the power of having fun as a person and family to help you through the dark times. Allison Douglas, Family Advocate with the Harmony Center, said it well in a Creating a Family AdoptionEd.org course:

“The more difficult the child, the more fun you should be having with them.”

Find one thing that you and your challenging child enjoy and make a point of doing it together frequently. Once you find one thing, look for something else. Please keep it simple, easily accessible, and inexpensive: bike riding, playing catch, making silly TikToks together, reading books aloud, or baking cookies.

Make the Changes

These five tips can help you parent your challenging child. These are not one and done tips that you can check off a list and then move forward. Instead, they will help you focus on healthy routines and planning for YOU if you are like most parents juggling real life. These tips might need to be tweaked and re-calibrated as the current pandemic-living evolves. It’s worth it because these lifestyle changes can open up opportunities to grow and succeed as a parent by any definition of the word!

Reference: Credits: by Tracy Whitney  

 

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

Identifying Parental Stress and The Circle of Support

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It is undeniable North Dakota adoption agencies have made so many progressions when preparing all prospective adoptive parents.  Ten years ago, there was very little training for parents to understand the unique task of parenting adopted youth.  It’s common for newly adoptive parents to say things like, “we want to adopt because it’s the right thing to do” or “adoption is our calling.”  Although this perspective is well-intentioned, adoptive parents need understand love just isn’t enough, especially when adopting special need children or adolescents.

According to Jayne Schooler, new adoptive parents and well-versed adoptive parents need to recognize and understand their expectations for their adoptive kiddos.  Here are 10 common unrealistic parental expectations parents hold that need to be acknowledged at adoptive placement and addressed on-going after adoption finalization.

  1. Your ability to love this child is or should be enough.
  2. You will feel the love from this child easily and immediately
  3. Your child will or should have become a part of your family and learned how to function within your rules, goals, and ambitions.
  4. Your child’s needs will be just like those of non-adoptive children in the family.
  5. Your child will fit in well with extended family; the family will welcome or are welcoming them into the family.
  6. Your family and friends will respect your role as a parent and support you through the journey of raising an adoptive child.
  7. Your child sees or will see you as family and forget their birth family and the past.
  8. You can do for this child what was not done for you.
  9. You will not do or are not doing for this child what was done to you.
  10. You will never feel any regrets or resentment about adopting your child from a traumatic past.

Do you find yourself identifying very strongly with one or more of these expectations?  As much as any parent would hold the desire to feel very strongly about all of these statements and also be validated well after finalization, the reality is these expectations are unrealistic and may set the family up for failure.

The repercussions of holding unrealistic expectations can put parents at risk of stress or depression.  It’s essential to continue to check-in with yourself and/or your significant other regularly.  Signs of stress may include headaches, stomach problems, procrastination, overly critical, isolation, irritability, forgetfulness, and anxious thoughts.  If you have concerns of being stressed and depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to a mental health professional.

One of the most essential things for adoptive parents is having a strong support system.  Heather Bench, an adoptive mom, created the Circle of Support.  This circle includes: The Rock: A person(s) who will remain in your life during the difficult times and continue to love you unconditionally, The Wise:  A person(s) who will always tell the truth even when it is not what you want to hear, The Learner:  A person(s) who will learn alongside you, The Helping Hand: A person(s) who understands and is aware when you may need a break and steps in to assist, and The Advocate: A person(s) who will always stand up for you and continue to support you.  If you feel burnout, unsupported, or lack supports, please contact your local Post Adopt Coordinator for support and assistance.  We’re here for you!

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

https://traumafreeworld.org/

The Importance of Respite Care

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Do you feel that you are in need of a break or time alone? While some families have the support of extended family and friends to provide respite care, not every family has a support system in place. Respite care is when families are able to have their children spend time with outside care providers, while parents take a break and the provider can get paid. Respite care can be very beneficial for a variety of reasons. Respite care can help caregivers recharge, rest, attend vacations or different activities that may be difficult for children to attend, or just spend time relaxing by yourself. Families and caregivers should not feel guilty for utilizing respite care. Respite can be utilized for preplanned activities or used in an emergency situation. Respite is not used for ongoing daycare services.

Did you know ND Post Adopt Network now offers a respite program for adoptive and guardianship families? Here is some background information on the respite program. Once you have decided you want to move forward and partake in the respite program that ND Post Adopt Network offers, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to find a respite care provider. Once a respite care provider has been identified and has agreed to provide respite care, your ND Post Adopt coordinator will provide you and the care provider with forms that will need to be completed and returned to your coordinator. ND Post Adopt Network will directly pay the parent and the parent will pay the caregiver once respite has occurred.

If you feel your family would benefit from the ND Post Adopt Network respite grant, contact your Post Adopt coordinator today!

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

How to Encourage Growth Mindset in your Child

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  1. Talk about the brain.  
    Talk about how the brain can work like a muscle. The more you use it, just like exercise, the stronger it gets.
  2. Use mistakes as teaching opportunities. 
    Mistakes are okay. In fact, that’s where learning really happens. That mindset is one to model and to speak out loud. When you make a mistake, talk about it and share what you learned. When your child makes a mistake, don’t criticize.  Steer the conversation to what was learned and remind your child that mistakes are opportunities to learn.
  3. Teach your child the power of “yet”.
    Adding one little word on the end of a sentence sends a powerful message. “I don’t know how to do that” is very different than “I don’t know how to do that yet.” “Yet” sends the message that I will be able to do that or that I can learn how to do that.
  4. Praise.
    Instead of praising a general statement such as “you are smart” or “you did a good job”, be specific. “You studied hard for your test.” “You were persistent and kept trying even when it was challenging.”  Specific praise shows that the effort was noticed, not just the result.
  5. Be a role model
    Use growth mindset concepts and language in what you do and say. Our children are watching and listening, and often that can be the easiest way for them to learn these concepts. An added benefit is that a growth mindset is good for you too!
  6. Have your child set S.M.A.R.T. Goals             
  • S = Specific: Think of the who, what, when, where, why
  • M = Measurable: How will I know if I reach my goal?
  • A = Achievable: Is it realistic? Can I accomplish it?
  • R = Relevant: How will it help? What is the benefit?
  • T = Timely: When do I want to be able to do this?
  1. Journaling
    Journaling can be a great tool for growth mindset. Journaling, along with positive affirmations, give a place for learning and practicing growth mindset in children.

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

www.hopeconnections.com

Interesting Facts about Adoption

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I have been a social worker for over 22 years, but I’m no stranger to adoption! I have gained most of my social work experience from long term care, the hospital setting, and hospice. My parents made an adoption plan for one of my older sisters. I also have an older sister that made an adoption plan for two of her own children. As many of you know, there is a wealth of information in books, in articles and on social media around adoption. I thought it would be great to share some fun facts about, adoption, too. Here are just a few:

  • Earliest Known Adoption: The Pharaoh’s daughter adopted baby Moses in the Bible
  • First Modern Adoption Law in the U.S. was enacted by Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1851
  • Prior to the development of infant formula in the 1920s, most adoptees were older children
  • In 2019, around 135,000 children were adopted in the United States. More than half of these children are over the age of six, and there are more boys in the Child Welfare System waiting to be adopted or fostered than girls. (Adoption Network)
  • Only around 2% of people in the United States have actually adopted a child, adoption statistics show. However, one-third of Americans have thought about the possibility of adopting and considered it an option. (Adoption Network)
  • There are around 437,000 children in the United States who are in foster care on any given day. More than 125,000 children in these circumstances are looking to be adopted. The average child in foster care will wait around four years until they are placed into a family that wishes to adopt them. (Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute)
  • In 2015, there were 12,000 international adoptions, with 5,500 children being adopted in the United States. This number is drastically lower than in 2005, when 46,000 children were adopted internationally. Around half of those international adoptions resulted in the child being brought to the United States. This is largely due to certain countries banning international adoption or increasing the difficulty of adopting children from their country, according to international adoption stats. The countries that have banned or cut down on international adoption include China, Ethiopia, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, and Guatemala. (The Conversation)
  • Nearly 100 million Americans have adoption in their immediate family, whether this includes adopting, placing, or being adopted. (Adoption Research)
  • There are around 2 million LGBTQ people in the United States who want to adopt. That’s a lot of homes and many loving parents for children who desperately deserve them. Current adoption statistics show that around 4% of all adopted children in the United States are living with LGBTQ parents. (Lifelong Adoptions)
  • And at least one fun fact: Famous people who were adopted include Jamie Foxx, Jack Nicholson (by his grandparents), Ray Liotta, Steve Jobs, Frances McDormand, Nancy Reagan, Lance Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Dr. Ruth, Nicole Richie, Dave Thomas (Wendy’s Founder), Eric Clapton, Gary Coleman, Faith Hill, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Melissa Gilbert, and Scott Hamilton. (Huffington Post)

Hundreds of thousands of children are adopted around the world each year. And with that, new loving and happy families are created. The above adoption statistics show, with some insight, how adoption in the United States and international adoption work, as well as how prominent adoption is within the LGBTQ community.

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

To Tell or Not to Tell?

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Let’s face it, trauma is difficult.  It’s difficult knowing our kiddos have a trauma history they had no control over.  It’s difficult knowing that you cannot take away the trauma they’ve experienced, and you cannot wish it away.  It can be difficult deciphering when to address these difficult pieces of your child’s history with them.  You may have wondered what to share and when to share your child’s history with them. You may have even found yourself contemplating whether it’s necessary to share all of the details of their trauma history with them.

These worries and concerns that you may struggle with are valid.  Parents, you may find yourself wanting to protect your child.  You may want to guard them and worry if bringing up their history may re-traumatize them.  This fear comes from the deep love you have for your child.  It’s no fault to you for wanting the absolute best for your child.  The truth is, your child needs to know their trauma history.  Talking with your child about the truths of their trauma history allows your child to grow in their identity of who they are. When determining when and how to have these conversations, consider the age and developmental stage of your child, ensure you’re familiar with your child’s trauma story, and plan what you are going to say.

It’s important to consider your child’s age and where they are developmentally and their readiness when deciding when to talk about their trauma history.   Natural instinct may be to talk with your child when they are a teen.  However, it may be more beneficial to share the difficult points of your child’s trauma history when they are younger, and here’s why.  Teens are trying to figure out what their identity is, which is based on what they know up to this point.  Teens are trying to decipher who they are in relation to what they know of their world up to this point and how they fit in.  Adding their trauma history at a point where there is already so much questioning and deciphering, which can be seen in adolescent years, can become problematic and adds an entirely new layer to sort through.  Because of the large amount of change that does happen during adolescent years, it may be beneficial to tell your child their history prior to adolescence.  You may have conversations throughout the early childhood years, which is great.  It’s never too early to share this information, as long as the information is developmentally appropriate.  Holly van Gulden, author of Real Parents, Real Children and an adoption counselor, has encouraged parents to share a child’s full trauma history between the ages of 9 – 12 years of age, so children can address issues, feelings, and concerns before the changes that occur during adolescence.  Children in this age group may be more open to receive support from their parents, as opposed to children in their adolescent years.  There is also more time to mull through this history with parents, instead of trying to make sense before transitioning to the next chapter of their life.  Evaluating your child’s readiness is necessary to also consider.  Decipher where your child’s sense of self image is and their ability to process information cognitively and emotionally.  Determining where your child may be and how they’re able to process information may help navigate what pieces you’re able to share, as well as the language you’re able to use while sharing their trauma history with your child.

Become familiar with your child’s trauma history and the language that surrounds it.  Read through the documents that were provided to you during the adoption process.  If you have any questions regarding what you’ve read, reach out to the adoption agency you worked through for more clarification.  Understand that you might not be able to gather all the pieces from your child’s history.

Plan what you’re going to share with your child and plan to use words and concepts that are developmentally appropriate.  Be open and honest, sharing information you know to be true. Reverting to an earlier point, you may not know all pieces of information regarding their history.  It’s better for your child to hear that you do not know the entirety of their history instead of filling in gaps that you’re unsure of.   Your child may have questions right away, or need time to process and may come with questions at a later time.  Explain they can ask questions at any time, even if it’s long into the future.  If you need assistance in planning what or how to share, reach out to your Post Adopt Coordinator – we are here to support you through this process!

Navigating through this tough subject can be difficult and filled with emotion.  Finding the best time, the best approach, and the right words to say can be difficult.  It’s ok for you as a parent and for your child to process through this with a therapist with specialized training in working through these tough situations.  Reach out to your Post Adopt Coordinator for assistance for this as well.  We are always happy and ready to help!

Resources that may be valuable in this subject matter include:

https://amaraputskidsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Talking-with-Children-about-Difficult-History.pdf

https://adoptionsupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/05-Talking-with-Children-Difficult.pdf

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

 

Crisis De-escalation and Intervention

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It is very likely that your adopted or guardianship child has experienced some degree of trauma before becoming a part of your family. Trauma can be due to many types of abuse, neglect, maltreatment, losses, and so forth. Any child who experiences trauma can display escalated behaviors, which can be physical, verbal, or through actions, such as stealing, lying, running away, etc. Those behaviors typically result from underlying trauma and emotional triggers. If you have a child that has displayed worrisome behaviors, you are not alone. It is important to understand and have a good understanding on how to handle escalated behaviors to ensure all parties involved are safe.

I will not be discussing physical intervention/de-escalation as physical intervention is to be used as a last resort. Due to the precise ways to engage in physical intervention/techniques, I recommend participating in a Crisis De-Escalation Intervention Class, or CPI, to learn about the safety precautions with physical interventions. These classes can help demonstrate techniques to utilize if needing to engage in physical intervention. These techniques not only help keep the child safe, but can also help keep the parent or adult safe in that situation as well. Physical de-escalation/interventions include some sort of physical restraint, or holdings, of the distressed individual. While physical de-escalation may be needed at some point, it is important to remember to always try to utilize verbal de-escalation techniques prior to engaging in physical interventions.

Here are some steps to take to help de-escalate an escalating situation WITHOUT engaging in physical intervention:

1. It is very important to be aware of both your verbal and non-verbals when communicating with an escalated person, child, or adult:

    • Verbal communication can look like:
      • Active listening, asking questions, validating feelings, providing choices, not arguing, and talking in a calm, but firm voice.
    • Non-verbal communication can look like:
      • Facial expressions and body language

2. Remove other peers/adults from the situation

    • This will ensure safety of others while trying to de-escalate the situation. It will also help to eliminate an audience and attention on the negative behavior that is being displayed.

3. Ensure there is personal space between the escalated individual/child and yourself.

    • This can help with protecting yourself if the situation should turn aggressive and physical.

4. Set limits and boundaries

5. Different techniques to try:

    • Distraction
    • Providing choices

6. Once the situation is diffused, discuss what they could do next time to prevent the escalation of the behavior.

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

Resources/references:

https://www.crisisprevention.com/Blog/De-escalation-Tips

https://www.dbsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Understanding_Agitation_Poster.pdf

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

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