Holidays including Christmas are a special time for families, but can also lead to increased pressure and strain. Working out what Christmas “looks like” for adopted children can be hard. It’s a time of heightened emotions, changes to routine, increased expectations and potential triggers. With this in mind, our adoption support team have put together some advice and tips to help adoptive parents this holiday.

Keep things low key

The holidays are cause for excitement. This can be too much for some children to handle, so keeping a routine and limiting visits and outings can be beneficial. It’s important to think about what your child/ren can manage and not to give in to feelings of guilt if someone else wants you to do something you don’t think would be best for your family.

When children get overexcited, redirecting the child’s focus can help to regulate them. For example, when people are visiting and presents are exchanged, give your child the task of taking photographs of everyone to re-direct their excitement. 

 Children excited for Christmas

Gift Exchanges

Opening presents is supposed to be fun, not frustrating. But for children who have trouble with impulsivity, gift exchanges can be full of potential pitfalls. Here are a few things to look out for, and how you can help, before the big day and in the moment.

Practice not giving away the surprise. Before the day rehearse the gift-giving process of receiving and giving gifts.  Remind your child even in the car journey to your family/friend’s house that the surprise is important. If your child does give away the surprise, a reassuring response may be “The best part is seeing people open the present! Try to keep the secret with the next one.”

  • Slow the pace of opening presents. Some children may find it difficult to take turns or to open their presents at a slow pace, therefore giving them a job may help with this. A strategy could be to tell your child it will be their job to hand a gift to each person. Then they can take one of their own, and everyone can open a gift at the same time.
  • Sharing guidance. Before the day, discuss how others may get gifts that are interesting. Once all the gifts are open, they can ask to look at them. Practice saying things like, “When you’re finished playing, can I see it?” Also to remind your child that they would be angry if someone grabbed their gift without asking.
  • Unwrap simple presents first. Giving a child small toys to open first may help them to play with these whilst other members of the family open their gifts. Leave the large present to be opened last.

Girl holding a Christmas Card

Help your child manage change

Different children react differently to change; some need to be fully prepared and others cannot handle the anticipation. Think about whether you need to do step by step planners for your child so they can see where they will be, what they will be eating and what will be happening.

Some parents use planners to help children with the changes to the school routine at this time of year, but remember that they might need this all the way through the school holiday too so they have structure to their day.

Try to keep ‘normal’ routines where possible, such as meal times and bedtime and even foods that they are familiar with. Consider whether you need to keep celebrations short, with decorations going up just before the day and coming down a few days afterwards so it’s not too drawn out.

See behaviour as communication

Don’t just react to the behaviour you see, stop to think about what is going on emotionally for your child. Consider your child’s view of themselves and the world around them and try to understand behaviour in the context of their history.

Stay connected to your child emotionally, remember PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) responses and try to use “I wonder” statements. Plan an ‘escape route’ so that if a situation is becoming stressful you have a quiet space already identified where you can be together for some special time. Don’t put pressure on children to join in.

Boy hanging ornament on Christmas Tree

Think about your own expectations

We all have an image of the ideal Christmas but stop to consider if this is realistic. Keep things simple. If something is not going to plan, think about whether you can change it. If a child is struggling as the day has not met their expectations or they may not have got a present they wanted. Acknowledge a child’s feelings in the moment and give them an explanation when they are regulated. ‘I’m sorry this isn’t what you expected. I see you’re disappointed. Let’s look at your presents and see the other cool things you got.”

Take time-out for yourself

Holidays are busy and stressful and your own coping systems may be reduced. Recognise your own triggers and don’t feel guilty for taking some “me time”.

Other helpful tips

  • Have pyjama days
  • use a colour-in table cloth
  • let children eat what they fancy
  • don’t put pressure on them to like Santa - he can be scary to some children
  • develop your own family traditions and stick to them each year
  • get children involved with planning and give them jobs to do
  • be careful with crackers for children that don’t like noise
  • get outside and run off some steam.

Boy smiling in front of Christmas fireplace

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