Why the holidays are hard

Little girl with twinkle lights

Why the holidays are hard

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas. No matter how you celebrate this time of year, or even if you don’t celebrate it at all, it’s impossible to avoid the holiday season. Despite the lights and music and other jolly festivities, anyone who has experienced a serious loss knows that “the most wonderful time of the year” can bring on feelings of sadness, loneliness, and tension. By definition, all foster children have experienced loss, and a surprising number have experienced traumatic moves during the holidays. To them, all the holiday trappings might be a trigger for what are called “anniversary reactions,” including anger and depression.

Even the most expensive, shiny gift can’t make up for a foster child’s deep grief. As a foster or adoptive parent, sometimes the best gifts you can give your child are the permission to feel sad and the knowledge that you understand holidays can be hard. Be alert for signs of distress in your foster or adoptive child. Look for opportunities to discuss the child’s feelings and fears. Be the one who initiates conversation. If emotions are already high, be on the lookout for patterns or triggers that anticipate deteriorating behavior. Heading them off can prevent a full-blown crisis.

Other tips for making it through December with your sanity intact:

• Minimize expectations. In other words: Take a chill pill. Downsizing your holiday calendar decreases the number of transitions a child must endure. Transitions are hard for children of trauma.
• Take the focus off gifts. Giving is wonderful but the anticipation and excitement around presents add up to increased stress for kids.
• Always remember to be empathetic, acknowledge grief and try to understand a child’s losses. If it seems appropriate, sensitively share about your own losses and how you coped with them.
• Find the delicate balance between underreacting and overreacting to a child’s behavior.
• Let the child choose the level of family connectedness he or she is ready to accept.
• Network with other families who have walked in your shoes, have a sense of humor and know how to relax.
• Incorporate traditions the child remembers from birth family or earlier homes. Does the child remember any special foods from Christmases past? If so, make them.
• Let the child create or select a special ornament or memento to commemorate the importance of the birth family. Open an advent calendar window or light a candle every night for the people your child misses. Make a tree with an ornament for every person he or she misses.

Giving children the space and permission to express themselves lets them know it’s okay to have feelings of grief and sadness–even at Christmas.

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