Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: What to do When Your Adoptee Struggles During the Holidays

Holidays should be a joyous occasion, full of family, friends, food, fun.  Gifts, decorations, music.  

But any parent of any child knows that holidays can be really disruptive and exhausting.   This is oftentimes more true for kids who are adoptees.  


Well, it can be for a few reasons.  One:  special needs of any sort, such as Sensory Processing Disorder.  The extra sounds, lights, different foods, going from home to home:  all can be quite disruptive, leading to epic meltdowns.  It is my understanding that children who were adopted are more likely to have myriad of special needs, including SPD.   Two:  some adoptees struggle with holidays, including birthdays, because consciously or not, it can trigger some BIG feelings about adoption.  This can be true of a child adopted when he or she is older, or even a child adopted as an infant.  

What I have learned is that every single adoptee is different.  And as Madeleine Melcher, adoptee, shares with us in her book, it’s the parents’ job to listen to THEIR child and respond in the way their child needs.  

Do you have a child who struggles with the holiday season and celebrations?    If yes, here are some tips to proactively make your holiday season more merry.   

1:  Say no.
Do not say yes to even or most invitations.   Doing so is stressful and unnecessary.   Choose a few celebrations that mean the most to your family (and that best fit your family’s needs) and attend those.  Do not say yes to an invitation out of guilt.   What is best for your family is best for your family.   Period.  Here are some tips on saying no, in case you tend to be a people-pleaser or struggle with confrontation.

2:  Take it down a notch.
Food, decorations, music, gifts, etc. are all the “it” I’m referring to.   More things on the “to do” list mean more stress.   Prioritize.   What are your absolute favorites, and what can be put off a few years OR taken off the list indefinitely?   Bake ONE kind of cookie.   Decorate as long as it brings joy.   Buy gifts within reasonable limits.   You are probably well aware of what’s working for your family and what isn’t.  

3:  Focus.
By saying no (#1) and taking it down a notch (#2), you are teaching your kids that what matters most is the heart of the celebration and season, not the number of gifts or houses you visit or miles you put on your car.    What is the heart of the season for you and your family?  For us, it’s celebrating Christ’s birth, giving and receiving gifts, and spending time with family.  

4:  Have a plan.
No matter how well you plot to have a calmer, merrier holiday, the holiday season can still create issues.  Because of this, have a plan in place.  For my child with anxiety, we bought an oversized beanbag chair with a pocket for books; it is ONLY for her use and stays in her room.   When she gets overwhelmed, she can go into her cozy chair.   The old go-to was an attitude and sabotaging the party (and others’ good time).   Traveling?  We can still create a sanctuary space.  
How do you create  plan?  Meet with other experienced mamas that are parenting kiddos that have struggles similar to yours.   Meet with an adoption-educated therapist.   Seek assistance from qualified, experienced individuals. 

5:  Talk about what’s going on.
Take some quiet moments to get one-on-one with your kiddo and talk about the underlying issues.  Does he or she miss birth family?   Are the sensory inputs just too much?    What’s going on?  Talk about it, more than once (but not obsessively)  Keep those counseling or therapy appointments:  make them a top priority.  Schedule a mid-season counseling session if necessary.   Ignoring truths only attempts to bury them; they will resurface later. 

6:  Stick to your routine.
As much as possible, sticking to a routine and rules can help.   For example, there’s SO MUCH sugar at Christmas celebrations, so my contribution is often big bags of our favorite popcorn.  It’s crunchy, very slightly sweet, and kids LOVE it.   The fiber keeps them full, and they’re not filling on multiple sugar cookies covered in artificial dye.   We also travel with a bag of apples and bottled water, and we often take these artificial-dye-free suckers to share with all the cousins (and they are SO yummy).    Fruit and water are big staples in our house, so why not take them along?  The familiarity, plus the nutrition, helps keep our kids balanced. 

7:  Go with the flow.
Even with a plan in place, there’s going to be some things (like loads of sugary stuff) that you simply cannot get around.  So give in a little, just not to the point of dealing with the consequences for days and days afterward.   When you have a plan, you have something to fall back on, which is helpful.   

8:  Treat yo’self. 
You have a plan for everyone else, so why not yourself?   Buy that favorite expensive wine to enjoy in the evenings after the kids are in bed.   One thing I got myself last year was a cozy, one-person blanket (I DO NOT SHARE---no shame) that I love to throw over my body in the evenings while the hubs and I watch TV.   Whatever it is, remember that you matter, too!  And in fact, you know you can’t pour from an empty cup:  so take care of YOU so you can best take care of others. 

Let’s chat on Facebook.  What tips would you offer other moms?   What has worked (and not worked) for your family in the past?  

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