The holidays are quickly approaching and with the whirlwind of excitement, we can often overlook that for our youth who have experienced trauma, the holiday can lead to anxiety and feeling overwhelmed which can create an explosion during a time which should be stress free and fun for everyone involved. Taking the time to prepare now may help prevent a future meltdown.
One way to help your child is to create a “quiet space” in your home or in any home where you might be spending time this holiday season. A quiet space is an area your child can go to escape the hustle and bustle and re-center themselves. This space does not need to be big. It just needs to be a quiet and calm space that is comfortable for the child. Get creative. Create a blanket fort in your bedroom, clean out a spare closet, or find a corner in your in-laws house where you can pile pillows and your child can put in headphones and blast their favorite music. Put books, coloring books, audiobooks, stuffed animals, etc. in this space. Remind your child often of their quiet space and let them know they can utilize this space whenever they need. If your child needs a quiet space at a house you might be visiting during the holidays, ask the host ahead of time if they have a space the child can retreat to if they need. Once you get to the house, show the child where their quiet space is. Encourage them to use it as they need.
It can be very triggering and emotional during the holidays as a child in foster care. Prepare your family ahead of time about the likes and dislikes of your child. If there are certain topics that should be avoided, let your family know. This can help you all avoid potential triggers. It can also be helpful to tell your child about the ins and outs of your family. Does your Aunt Susan love cats? Maybe tell your cat loving child all about Aunt Susan ahead of time so they are ready to bond at a holiday party. Do you have a “scroogey” cousin? Maybe give your child a heads up so they don’t take it personally if the cousin doesn’t laugh at their newest joke.
The season of gift giving is upon us! It can be important to remind your family of origin that your child that is in foster care is a part of your family at this time and should be treated as such. That means if grandma and grandpa want to give your biological child a present, they would also get a gift for your child that is in foster care. It can be very helpful to have a few small wrapped presents hidden away in case a family member forgets to bring a gift.
The holidays are a time of tradition and of reliving memories. That can be hard for our kids who are coming into your home with their own traditions and memories of the holidays. Some of those memories will be beautiful and sweet. Other memories might be painful and bleak. Incorporating some of the traditions that are important to your youth may help them feel connected to family they are not able to be with this holiday.
Another way to help the youth feel included is to start a brand new family tradition with them. Do something new that you have wanted to do. Maybe this is the year you start to go to zoo lights or make that fancy Christmas bread you have always wanted to try. Create new memories that will be unique to this holiday. Don’t forget to take tons of pictures. When your youth is no longer with you they will have physical reminders of the fun that you helped create with them during this challenging time.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It is easy to let go of your self-care when life gets busy and/or stressful. While that is necessary sometimes when things get really hectic, it is important to not let that happen long term. This is what leads to burnout! You will not have appropriate empathy, compassion, and energy to parent children who have experienced trauma if you are not creating time for your own self-care.
I am a big believer that self-care should be scheduled into your day DAILY. Yes, DAILY. You should be making at least 5 minutes for yourself every single day. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. This could mean getting up 5 minutes earlier to enjoy your coffee in quiet, reading a trashy romance novel, taking a walk, or calling your best friend.
Please remember to be gentle on yourself and your family during the holidays. Put on your trauma informed glasses to allow yourself to see the invisible struggles we all are going through. In the end, what is the most important is that everyone has a pleasurable and memorable holiday season.