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Happier holidays!

Twigs in a vase with red and white paper hearts on them.

The holiday season is upon us, full of fun and festivities. For children who are in foster care or were adopted, Christmas and other holidays can be a reminder of the family that they’ve lost. Here are some suggestions for navigating the season with your family.

1. Shift your expectations

If your child or teen has a history of loss and trauma, holidays can trigger all kinds of mixed-up feelings and challenging behaviors. What sounds fun to you might be a trigger for your child. Make it safe to discuss what this time of year means to them, and recognize that they may not be happy or enjoy the holidays in the way you wish they would.

2. Keep your family routine

Consistency is always important for kids in foster care. Simply having school end for a break may be upsetting. Be cognizant of children’s need for sleep and nutritious meals. Talk about the big feelings your kids might be having, and plan activities that will let them get their energy out in healthy ways.

3. Make time for relaxation

Review your social calendar for the month of December. If you have plans every weekend, decide which things you can eliminate. Stay home when you can and set aside time for yourself!

4. Buy less

Children with attachment trauma sometimes rely more on things than on people to measure love. Perhaps make some gifts together or give experiences like bowling or movie tickets.

5. Incorporate birth family members when safe and possible

Whether it’s inviting family members to a meal, arranging a phone call or Zoom session, or sending a card in the mail, acknowledging and welcoming birth family members can help ease the sense of loss and competing loyalties that children may feel.

6. Create a new tradition together

Drive around in your PJs looking at Christmas lights. Make cookies–have fun and don’t worry about a Pinterest-perfect result! Snuggle up with popcorn and watch a fun movie. Ask your child to share some of their traditions with you, and incorporate those into your family’s holiday plans.

7. Have an escape plan

If you’re co-parenting, perhaps drive separately to gatherings just in case a parent needs to leave with a dysregulated or tired child. Talk with your child or teen before events that might be stressful and create a signal they can give if they need help or are getting overwhelmed.

8. Notice brave moments

The holidays are filled with things that can be very challenging for a child whose brain defaults to defense mode. It is incredibly brave to trust an adult if adults have not always been safe. Remember to celebrate the little things, like handling a change in plans, sharing with a sibling, or even getting in the car without complaining.

9. Laugh a lot!

Realize that at least one thing (and most likely many things) will go wrong. When they do, take a few deep breaths and smile! It is amazing how laughter helps us cope!