Thriving Through the Holidays

By: - December 8, 2020

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We know that the holiday season can be very difficult for foster, adoptive, and kinship families, which is why we are offering the Tapestry Conference Replay until December 31st! Don’t miss the opportunity to hear encouragement and practical advice from experienced parents and professionals (such as Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, Lisa Qualls, Jason Johnson, and so many more!)

The holiday season can be a beautiful time of connection for your family as we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a time of giving thanks and giving gifts, and it can bring us together. But there are also things about the holiday season that can be very difficult for children who have experienced trauma. The holidays themselves can remind our children of loss, trauma, or biological family, which can trigger challenging behaviors that can be difficult to navigate.

As we continue in the holiday season, here are some helpful things to keep in mind and some questions to ask when trying to not only survive, but thrive through the holiday season.

1. Evaluate Expectations

In the world of social media (especially Pinterest!), it can be really easy to give in to the expectation that we have to do it all, but especially during the holiday season. We see pictures of families doing all of the Christmas activities, advent readings, and time with extended family. But as foster and adoptive parents, we know that not all good things are good for our kids. We don’t have to do everything, and we can change our expectations to match what is best for our own family.

Some questions to ask:

  1. What are some realistic expectations for our family?
  2. What are a few fun activities that everyone would enjoy?
  3. What expectations does our extended family have for this holiday season?
  4. How can we kindly inform our friends and family about trauma and give them an understanding of what our family will and will not do?

2. Simplify Activities and Traditions

Sometimes we get bogged down in the gift giving, activities, and time with extended family and friends, which can take away from the essential time needed to actually connect with our kids. In order to increase connection, we might need to cut down on the number of activities or the pressure of gift-giving. We might also need to spend some time preparing our children for what the holidays might look like, write specific activities on the calendar, and keep some elements of your daily routine so that our children feel safe during a time that can feel very different.

Some questions to ask:

  1. Think about your own family Christmas. Are you trying to make up for your own past Christmas (or your children’s) and overspending?
  2. Can you simplify your gift-giving list or simply buy gift cards for certain family members and friends?
  3. Are your children stressed by the idea of surprises? Could you simplify by letting them pick out their gifts to make them feel more at ease and in control?
  4. How much can my children handle when spending time with extended family and friends? What plan can we make to spend some alone time? Do we need to stay at a hotel?

3. Keep Perspective & Have Compassion

While holidays can be fun, they also can certainly be a source of stress. And stress can cause our children’s window of tolerance to shrink, sending them to the “downstairs brain” much quicker. This is true for our children , but it is also true for us (on a smaller scale). How many of us parents have had a freak-out moment while trying to do something “fun” with our kids? Sometimes the activities and traditions we thought might be fun or good for our kids can end up being triggering to them. We need to be mindful that while there are many good things for our children during the holidays, they might not all be the best for our kids. Remember that your children are struggling due to loss and trauma, and keep that perspective in order to come back to compassion – again and again.

Some questions to ask:

  1. Do you have an obligation to a family tradition that isn’t working for your family?
  2. Is there something from your past that is getting in the way of you enjoying the holidays? Process it. Talk it through with a counselor. Doing your own work will help your family.
  3. What is a stumbling block to connection with your kids? Can you get rid of, change, or add something into your holiday season to get rid of that stumbling block?
  4. What is going on behind a challenging behavior that your child is exhibiting? How can you help guide him/her through the feelings behind the behavior?

4. Prioritize Connection

As parents of children from hard places, we know that connection with our kids is our top priority. Over time, connection builds trust and felt safety, which eventually helps build attachment. Therefore, if the activities and traditions we are implementing are not promoting connection, then we can be sure that they are not worth our time. Connection with our kids often comes in the simplest of ways: intentional hugs, routines, and quality time spent together.

As parents, we also should consider our other connections. We need to make sure that we are connecting with Jesus regularly and praying for ourselves and our family. We need to care for ourselves and do the things that fill us up. Additionally, we should be intentionally connecting with our spouses and making sure that we are prioritizing that relationship.

Some questions to ask:

  1. What is most important that your children walk away from the holidays remembering? Make a list with your family about what is most important at the beginning of the holiday season and reference it throughout.
  2. What are some connecting activities that you can intentionally implement into your daily routine to make your children feel safe and loved?
  3. What can you remove from your schedule that is inhibiting or preventing connection?
  4. How can make sure that you are filling your own cup during the holiday season? (Time with Jesus, caring for yourself, date night with your spouse, spending time with friends, etc.)

The holiday season is a time to remember the birth of our Savior and celebrate how He came to the world to save us. If we keep Him at the forefront of our minds, it can be a lot easier to simplify our holidays, have compassion, and connect better with our families. Let’s serve our families well this season and, most of all, point them to the One who gave it all to save us.

Be sure to tune in for our blog post next week! We have a lot of ideas for connecting activities for the holiday season, and even a free download for you!

Matthew 6:33

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

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