With the upcoming holiday season approaching quickly, it is important for parents to be reminded of the trauma that our children have faced from the abuse, neglect and maltreatment. The reality, for our children, is that many have had multiple transitions that affect their worldviews and behaviors around the holidays. Parents may see an increase in agitation and negative behaviors around the holidays, and they often wonder what they can do. Holidays are often a trigger for children, and it stirs up a multitude of emotions.
One of the best strategies to handle these delicate situations is to use daily trauma-informed care. Since parents are both caregivers and healers, they need to narrate (tell the story) to children about what the holidays are going to be like. Even if you have had the children for a number of years, or a number of months, the more the parent “tells the story” to the child around what the holidays will be like, the more the child can be prepared. Daily trauma-informed care says that there should be “no surprises” for the children.
I recommend talking about the holidays far in advance. Tell the child what the holidays will look like, smell like, feel like, and what they will observe. Talk about some of the details each and every day. Parents need to slowly, and patiently, put into words what the holidays are like, and how they may be impacting the child in their home. Parents can get out pictures from last year and remind the child what the holidays look like in their home.
Parents need to keep in mind that the holidays are about family traditions and warm feelings for them because many of them have grown up in a stable home environment. The children that are adopted may not have any of those feelings, and may have never experienced the holidays in a joyful way.
A few key things to think about:
- Acknowledge that holidays can bring up a variety of feelings. Take the opportunity to talk with your children about them.
- Let go of any expectations that your family needs to experience holidays in a certain unvarying way to be a real family.
- Admit that holidays don’t have to be “perfect.” It is okay if your adoptive child has mixed feelings.
- Examine the patterns of your holidays. Rather than repeating those patterns each year and hoping for a different outcome, change the patterns.
- Develop rituals and traditions to fit your family, even if they may be different from the rituals and traditions you had growing up or those you imagined your family would have.
By keeping this in mind, please go fourth and have a happy and safe holiday season!
by Dan Mills, Director of Program Development, Adoption Options