Navigating the Holidays & Special Events

Date: December 11, 2020 l Author: Holly Fregin, MS

The holiday season is typically filled with excitement and joy. In the midst of all the “Christmas cheer,” however, you may see unusual behaviors or increased melt downs coming from your foster and/or adoptive children. This may be hard for you as a parent to understand and respond to, especially when you are going above and beyond to create a fun, meaningful holiday for them filled with gifts, celebrations, and happy memories.

When any special event comes around, we encourage you to not miss the “need” behind the array of emotions that your foster or adoptive child may be expressing in response. Some of your kids may have memories of joyful holidays with their biological families, so they are grieving the loss of those times and missing their biological families. On the other hand, some of your kids have never experienced a joyful holiday, and so even through all your thoughtful and exciting planning, it is all foreign to them and therefore overwhelming.

Here are a few more things that may be going on inside their hearts and minds:

• Guilt for celebrating without their biological families
• Worry about the safety of their biological families
• Sadness and grief over what they have lost
• Anxiety and confusion caused by getting used to a new family, new environment, and new traditions
• Sensory overload due to lack of structure and routine surrounding a calendar full of too many social events, which can lead to emotional outbursts
• Shame and guilt for not being able to meet your expectations of them

Take some time to think through these possibilities and better understand why the holidays may be difficult for your children. By focusing first on the need behind the behavior, we can then lead our children from a place of compassion and create realistic expectations for them to succeed during any special event.

Some practical ideas to help you prepare as you enter this holiday season:

1. Create An Environment for Open Communication
• Use this time to better get to know your children and their histories. Ask them how they spent previous holidays – what is important and meaningful to them?
• Encourage them to talk about their feelings surrounding the holidays and try to find ways to validate their feelings. Lean in to whatever sadness, guilt, or confusion they may be feeling in this season.

By focusing on communication, you are creating an opportunity to build trust and connection within you and your child’s relationship.

2. Create Clear & Realistic Expectations
• Create an environment of structure and routine throughout the holiday season, so your child knows what to expect. Build in time for them to be able to rest and recharge.
• Include your child in conversations regarding planning for the holidays, so they are prepared for what is ahead.
• Meet your child where they are at and have realistic expectations for them.
• Prepare ahead of time. Let them choose an outfit a few days in advance. Discuss what they can expect at each event.
• Look for intentional ways to build trust and strengthen family relationships.

3. Include your Child in the Holiday Activities
• Allow them to help decorate and be part of the preparation. Perhaps you can incorporate something they used to do with their biological family around the holidays, or prepare a favorite holiday dish they used to enjoy.
• Include them in your holiday travel, family parties, and traditions.
• Create an environment where your child feels welcome and part of the family.

Hopefully, these three tips give you a great starting point for you and your children to prepare to have a joyful, meaningful holiday season together as a family. Christmastime can be a wonderful opportunity for your family to grow together and create lasting memories. This season may not look exactly the same for your family as it has in the past, but we hope it’s still overflowing with joy, laughter, unity, and new traditions.