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Thriving Through the Holidays: A Trauma-Informed Approach for Adoptive Families

Tiffany Duchesneau, MSW, LMSW Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections Family Therapist

Whether this is your first holiday season with children in your home, or you have been at it for years, if you are worried about the behaviors this season may bring, I want you to know that you are not alone. The holidays come with a great deal of stimulation for all of our senses, which can be overwhelming to anyone, let alone our children who have experienced trauma and have overactive nervous systems constantly looking for signs of danger. The first step to surviving this holiday season is to take a minute and breathe. The same nervous system hijacking that happens to our children can happen to parents, which leads to us being less able to maintain their felt safety and connection. To be what they need you need to be, make sure you are filling your own bucket.

Now that you have taken your breath and gifted yourself a form of regulation, let’s set a few expectations. There are going to be some bumps along the road. Even children with the healthiest attachment can become overstimulated during the holidays and exhibit some difficult behaviors. Allow your expectations of the holidays to include that your child(ren) will have moments where their felt-safety is challenged, and you may need to adjust to meet their needs in those moments. They don’t need picture perfect; they need to feel seen and heard in those hard moments. Setting expectations may mean having honest conversations with family about the journey you are going through with your child(ren) and the importance of their needs being met.

Now that we are regulated and have realistic expectations for the holidays, it is time to create a plan. Begin by asking these questions: What sensations or experiences bring you and your child(ren) contentment and joy? What experiences bring the most feelings of togetherness and connection? What activities do you do together or separate that help calm your nervous systems? These are the types of activities that you will want to emphasize for your holiday plan. It may look different than your childhood traditions or even those of your close family members, but that is okay! Now, there may be things that you feel you want or need to do that you know are going to be difficult, but you want them to be included, and that is okay too. If you know they will be difficult, sandwich it between activities that are typically regulating for you and your child(ren) so that everyone has a better chance of tolerating those challenging moments. Plan how you will respond if you start to notice dysregulation or plan an easy way to bow out of those activities in that moment and make a goal to stay a little longer next year. If you can, intervene before dysregulation becomes an emotional blow up. In moments of dysregulation, you can still praise them for how well they have done and give them the co-regulation they need to return to their felt safety and connection with you.

This holiday season with your adopted children may not have Instagram worthy moments from beginning to end, that's natural. Remember that flexibility, self-compassion, and realistic expectations are your greatest allies. By focusing on creating a supportive and understanding environment, filled with activities that bring joy and connection for your family, you're not just navigating the holidays; you're actively shaping positive memories for your family. Embrace the imperfect moments, cherish the genuine connections, and above all, celebrate the resilience and growth that each day brings.


 

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