The 4th of July is a highly anticipated event every summer. It is a time to gather, stay up late, and spend time with friends and family. For our youth who have experienced trauma, this 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. With the 4th of July looming, I wanted to offer some tips and tricks to help make the 4th of July enjoyable for every member of the family.
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. 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. Make 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 on the 4th, 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.
Fireworks going off without warning can trigger our kids (and adults!) who have PTSD and/or are sensory sensitive. Many of our youth in care are sensory sensitive. Make a game plan ahead of time on how you are going to support your youth during fireworks. Does the youth want to hide in a room and watch a movie with you during fireworks? Does the youth want earplugs and hold your hands while you watch the fireworks? Waiting last minute to check in with your youth may lead to unnecessary anxiety.
Loyal conflicts can more easily pop up around holidays. Children can feel pulled in two different directions. Should they enjoy the holiday while spending it with their foster family? Should they remain loyal to their family of origin and refuse to participate? These are big feelings for a young brain and heart to have to sort out. Your job as foster parent is to help these kids process those big feelings. Check in frequently with your children about where their brain and heart is. Listen to what they have to say, it is important. Remember that loyalty conflicts are normal for our youth that are in foster care. However, there are many ways to combat it. Talk to your youth and their family about integrating some of their traditions into your celebration. Is there a way to schedule a visit on the holiday so that the youth can still have some time with their family on a day that might be important to them? Allow your child space to feel sad and grieve. It is ok that they are sad or feeling torn. Validate and reassure them that their feelings are normal, hard, and ok to feel.
Our traditions that we have in our family will be foreign and new for our youth that are in our care. Talk in advance with your youth about what this holiday looks like in your family so they know what to expect. The fear of the unknown creates a lot of anxiety in our kids. Talk often with them about the schedule and what to expect. Invite the youth in create new traditions in your family so they feel a part of the family and included in the holiday.
Another tip is self-care. When life gets busy, it is easy to put our needs on the backburner. 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.
Remember to keep expectations low as our kids will be under more stress. The more stress we have in our life, the lower our skill level. Be gentle on yourself and our youth. And remember, you should feel more connected to your child AFTER an intervention than you did before you started the intervention. GOOD LUCK!