While the upcoming holidays can be an exciting time for families, they can also trigger feelings within children and become a challenging time. Holidays may revoke feelings of memories of painful experiences and may bring back feelings and memories of birth parents, foster parents, siblings or others who were meaningful in their lives. Going away can also bring feelings of fear around not returning and sense of abandonment.
Here are some tips to help you through the holidays:
It is important to give your child plenty of notice of upcoming family gatherings and to not overwhelm them with too many gifts or activities at once. When you are more sensitive to a child’s anxiety or hesitation before an event, you are more likely to be able to prepare for issues that may arise.
Prepare both children and hosts
It is important to let family members know in advance that you may not stay for a long time and give them ideas of how they can prepare for your child. Take toys, food and activities with you that may be helpful for your child. Sometimes quiet time away from guests to help your child re-regulate may be needed and helpful. Many children feel uncomfortable with ‘forced hugs’. Help others to understand that ‘hugs’ can be given in many ways (high fives, a smile, a touch on the shoulder).
Talk to your child before an outing so they know what the general plan is. Set up ways that they can communicate with you if they are worried or need you for anything. Assure them that you are not expecting them to be perfectly behaved and will be happy to change the exit plan if necessary. Avoid threats of consequences or promises of rewards that are based on how they behave at an event.
Planning on going away?
Going away on holiday can be a difficult time for families. A change in routine can often lead to anxiety in some children due to the idea of leaving their home for a long period of time. This can be as unsettling for children as it is exciting for them. When packing your child’s belongings ready to go away. It is important not to pack them in the same bag/case they brought with them when they came to live with you. This can trigger many feelings of shame, loss and abandonment. It is important your child has a new bag, or if possible to pack your child’s belongings in the same bag as your own. This will reinforce to the child they are going and returning with you and your belongings are together.
Is your child ready to be taken on holiday?
When your child is first placed with you, it is a very exciting time and it is understandable that you may be eager to take them away on holiday with you. As exciting as it is, it is important for you to stop and ask yourself is your child really ready for this? Would further changes to their routine and environment cause them more distress? We recommend you do not take your child away on any overnight breaks within the first 12 months of them living with you. It is important for them to get to feel safe in their new environment and to become used to their new home and routines.
Some children will always find change hard to cope with, therefore it is important for you to have realistic expectations. Keep outings and holidays low key and ensure they are achievable. Do not feel you need to take your child away from home until you are sure they are ready – this may take several years.
Preparation is key and some children need lots of it. Show them maps and photos so they can visually see where they are going. Help them prepare for what to expect with the journey and have realistic expectations about what your child can cope with.
If you are going on an aeroplane, prepare them for the noise and the feeling. Show them lots of pictures of planes and if possible take them to the airport prior to your journey to show them where they will be going and to show them the planes taking off and landing – children often find the size of the plane scary due to them looking so tiny up in the air. Talk about food and keep reassuring your child when they will eat and what the food may be like where they are going. Where possible offer food which is familiar to your child and try to stick to their eating times and routine.
Leaving pets behind can cause anxiety and trigger memories of previous losses, so ensure your child takes part in any care arrangements for your pets so they feel reassured.
Stay linked with home
Pack things that remind them of home – these are called transitional objects. Pack things that especially smell of home such as pillowcases and blankets. Ensure you factor in phone calls to family members so your child knows they haven’t disappeared or forgotten about them. Talk about things you will be doing together at home once you are back, this will help reassure your child they will be returning home with you.
Written by Kirsty Cooke, Family Support Worker
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