6 holiday tips for adoptive families

Posted by Heather Sewell on December 14, 2016  /   Posted in Adoption, Adoption Support, Advocacy, Family Support

Adoption and the Holidays from OCAKids on Vimeo.
Underlying issues like adoption, thinking about birth parents, sensory issues, new culture can cause extra aspects of stress to a family’s holiday celebrations. OCA wanted to provide some ways you and your family can plan for the upcoming holiday festivities with freedom and ease. These suggestions come from the personal experiences of Family Support Director, Stacia Washausen, adoptive parent to two sons from international adoptions.

  1. Say “no” to changes in sleep and food routines. It is okay to say “no” to relatives on your child’s behalf. If your child is not used to staying up late, you don’t have to stay up until midnight visiting. Especially, if that means paying the price the next day. There are many meals and new foods that come out during the holidays. This season, let your child know that it is okay if he doesn’t eat grandma’s famous ham dinner and you have to bring something along that you do know they will eat. But it is important that your children eat. Remember our kids do better if they are well hydrated and have food about every 2 hours.
  2. Simplify, we don’t have to make up for missed holidays. That would add up to an overwhelming holiday for all. Make new simple rituals that will build connection. Choose to bake cookies together or watch Christmas movies. The bigger deal you make about Christmas and holidays, the more the child feels pressure to perform. Throughout the day and as you travel, keep things low key and slow paced. Post a schedule and review it with your child. Remind them that things can change, but try to stick to the schedule. Have a secret signal that the child can give you if he needs a break and help him. It’s okay for a child not to participate in every event. We need to remember that readiness doesn’t always coincide with age. For most of our kids ‘ chronological age doesn’t match their level of functioning.
  3. As hard as it may be, we can’t take meltdowns personally—we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our children. But that also means, if your cup is empty, more than likely you will take it personally and you won’t have much to offer to your kids. Remember patience—deep breaths. It’s okay to say to your spouse, “give me 5.” We need to be emotionally regulated for our kids. For most of our kids, we are an outside regulator of their emotions.
  4. Accept your child’s feelings, don’t force your thoughts of “it’s Christmas and it’s a happy time” on him. This tells them—your feelings don’t matter. Be available to your child—talk about their birth family if they wish. Being good for one of our kids doesn’t always mean feeling good. Remember they may hear the message of being good for Santa differently—if they aren’t good, they may be rejected. Although the “fun” and “magic” of Santa may be fun for other kids, it’s good to recognize when your child is struggling to keep up or pretend for too long. As often as you can, provide space or your child to pause or watch from a distance if needed.
  5. If the child is from a different culture, you can include traditions from their culture. That is a part of your child and we should honor it.
  6. Things to remember, older kids may struggle with things being “fair.” They may see a different number of gifts as being unfair. You may see some unusual responses to gifts. Everything from tears to “I don’t like this.” Always meet with a non-angry response like “okay, we’ll just set this one aside for now.” Keep gifts to a minimum. Some kids, who come from deprivation, may experience feelings of guilt for having the gifts and others may be just the opposite. They may experience feelings of fear that they won’t get any more and want as many as possible. Gifts may be left untouched if too big of a deal is made about it—the emotional pressure may be too high to enjoy it.

Remember and accept that it probably won’t be drama free and remember the real reason for Christmas! Take time to read the story of Jesus’ birth together this year.

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