Planning for Christmas can be a wonderful time for the family to reflect and focus on what’s most important.
When you’ve recently adopted a child, Christmas can be a very special time for your child and the entire family. You want to do what you can to make this first Christmas memorable for your child as they begin their new life as part of your family. However, for some traumatized children, this can all be too much, leaving them feeling vulnerable, or even reminding them of bad Christmases they may have experienced in the past.
Here are some ways to keep the festive season fun and stress free for you and for them.
Keep it low-key and familiar
Especially for their first Christmas it is important to be very careful and be wary of what experiences our children may have had before joining your family. For some children, Christmas is a time of terror, not joy. Seeing the Christmas tree go up might cause triggers which will likely be demonstrated in their behaviours.
I would advise no surprises at first – you may be able to bring in small surprises in later years. Keeping Christmas low key and making sure the children do not feel threatened by it, does not mean this time of year cannot be fun.
Involve children in menu planning, giving them jobs to do and getting them to help with decorations can all be enjoyable parts of the holiday.
Planning Each Day
The lack of routine over the Christmas holidays can make it difficult for some children to cope. Building in routine activities like meals at the usual times can help. Using visual timetables to plan each day in advance and to help the child to understand exactly what they will be doing and when can take away the uncertainty of this period.
You can use these to plan activities, what times everything will take place and even menus for different mealtimes.
Making sure you all go out for some fresh air every day, whatever the weather is another good idea and will help children burn off some of the extra energy or adrenaline they might have built up.
I recommend not having visitors every day – every other day at most is likely to help keep the atmosphere a bit more familiar and safe for children.
The extra people, multiple courses, the banging of crackers and excitement of lighting the Christmas pudding can all make this meal a daunting experience for traumatized children.
My advice around this is to eat at normal meal times and to give children foods they know and like – if pizza and chips will make them more relaxed and enjoy the meal, then pizza and chips it is!
Be careful with crackers for children who are sensitive to loud noises. Taking some of the strangeness out of Christmas dinner could go a long way towards helping children feel safe, making it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.
Look After Yourself
Christmas is a time for getting together, spending time with family and having fun, but these can also mean that it can be an extremely stressful time of year.
Making sure you do not take on all the organizing can help – make sure each member of the family has a task, to make them feel significant and to take some pressure off you.
Take some time out to do what you want to do, whether it’s listening to music, reading a book for half an hour, or going for a walk can make a big difference to your state of mind.
Exercise generates mood enhancing hormones and can leave you feeling calmer, happier and feeling more in control. Going for a walk or a swim over the Christmas period could make a big difference.
If your child has established traditions – celebrate them!
An older child may come into your family with their own traditions. Helping them continue to celebrate with these traditions can help the child feel more a part of your family and valued.
Plan for downtime
It is normal to feel over scheduled over the Christmas holidays. Adopted children may feel especially tired if the holiday becomes too busy. It’s important to include downtime into your schedule. Children need time to adjust and
regulate, that means having time in-between events to relax.
Even though it can be tempting to try to schedule something for every day, your child also needs time to relax during their first Christmas with your family. Make sure they get enough sleep and that they have a quiet safe place to go to. Do not be afraid to say “no” to your friends and family.
Remember you don’t have to do it all
When you plan to make your first Christmas with an adopted child memorable, remember that it is ok to take a deep breath and relax. Remember that what your child needs the most are you and your family. Your first Christmas will be memorable because you are all together. In short, pay close attention to your child, try to limit overwhelming activities and situations, slow down and give your child a voice in what happens. Whether they say so or not, your children need lots of you rather than lots of presents!