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Creating your own Christmas…

One of the traps that it's easy to fall into at Christmas is spending excessive amounts of money, time and effort creating the 'perfect' occasion when what Christmas is really about is spending quality time together as a family. Start a Christmas revolution this year by keeping things simple for you and your adopted children. Remember…

Toddler making cookies

Toddler making cookies

  • Excessive amounts of stimulation and activity can be a recipe for an emotional meltdown so plan carefully and think what your child would particularly enjoy.
  • Many of our children may have difficult memories and feelings associated with Christmas so be sensitive when planning. Consider how they may need more of our time and attention and a more low-key and relaxed environment to be able to cope and enjoy the day.
  • Release yourself from the social and emotional pressure to do what other people think is right.  Perhaps those who put pressure on us to do what they want at Christmas don’t have a true understanding of the need to be emotionally attuned to our children’s needs, and that sometimes this means doing things differently.
  • Don’t be afraid to limit the number of visitors (or even close the door sometimes) to your home. Often the wider family are excited at the prospect of spending time with grandchildren or nephews and nieces, but if your child is likely to become overwhelmed, open up to your family and explain the situation.

And finally, remember it’s your family’s Christmas… write your own script, create your own magic and savour every small thing.

The first Christmas

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 them as they begin their new life as part of your family. However, for some traumatised 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 Social Worker Lianne advises 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. Involving children in menu planning, giving them jobs to do, and getting them to help with decorations can all be enjoyable parts of the holiday.
  • Plan each day. The lack of routine over the Christmas holidays can make it difficult for some children to cope.  Using visual timetables, plan each day in advance and help your child 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 more familiar and safe for children.
  • Christmas Dinner. The extra people, multiple courses, the banging of crackers, and the excitement of lighting the Christmas pudding can all make this meal a daunting experience for traumatised 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 – giving each member of the family a task makes them feel significant and takes 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 – a walk in the woods, splashing in the pool, or even dancing around the Christmas tree sparks those mood-enhancing hormones and can leave all of you feeling calmer, happier, and more in control
  • 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. Newly adopted children may feel especially tired if the holiday becomes too busy so it’s important to include downtime into your schedule. Children need time to adjust and regulate which means having time in-between events to relax, enough sleep, and a quiet, safe place to go to.
  • 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!

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