How many of you used to love the holidays, but now the holidays represent a time that your child seems to be having constant meltdowns, sabotaging the family time, the game nights, the decorating of the house, and so on?
This is not uncommon in children struggling with developmental trauma. Because the brain is so severely impacted by the developmental trauma, a shameful self-concept is developed, and they truly believe they are not worthy of good things, good times, a good family, or good friends. While logically you and I know this couldn’t be further from the truth – appealing to that logical brain: “Oh honey, everyone loves you, just come have a good time,” or “Why can’t you just have some fun, you deserve to have a good time too,” actually makes things WORSE!
So what do I do is your question now right? Here are a few things you can do to check in and attempt to make the holidays more enjoyable this year:
1. Make one-on-one time for your child
This is hard with the holidays, but if we don’t do this, we send the message that decorating the house, or other family members are more important. This is never the intention, but again that shameful self-concept rears its ugly head and convinces them they are not worthy of your time. Make the time.
2. Check in with your child
If things are starting to feel a little off, they probably are. Sit down alone with your child and check in. It will look something like this “hey honey, I just wanted to check on you. How are you?” “I’m fine mom/dad” “If you could give it a color what color would it be? Red for bad, yellow for okay, and green for good?” Allow them to answer – Don’t take fine, or good for an answer. Allow this to open up some dialogue of where things are at for them. This will help you to understand what is happening for them, but also help them to understand what is happening for themselves!
3. Use Empathy
Spend time imagining what this time of year is like for your child. If they are adopted, there is a lot they have lost, whether they consciously are aware of this or not, their body remembers, and longs to be with their birth family, healthy or not, it’s biology. Once you feel like you have a grasp, use empathy with them. Own the feelings and speak in first person language. “Gosh Sally, if I am you, the holidays are really overwhelming. There are more people in the house than normal, the house doesn’t look the same because there are decorations everywhere. Everyone is focused on something else, and I am feeling really unimportant and lonely.” Wait for them to respond. You might just get a nod of the head, fine – roll with it. But don’t worry about getting it wrong – if you get it wrong they are going to correct you and now a conversation has been started – wahoo! Way to go!
4. Slow down, you don’t have to do everything
Here you go, here is your permission to not have to go and do EVERYTHING. Don’t over commit and over book your family or child. This will always result in a meltdown/shut down/ etc. They are already dealing with a lot, and your friends and family may not understand why you aren’t coming to everything you used to, but they don’t have to understand. The most vital thing is for your child to feel understood or cared about. Over committing and going to everything sends the message that you don’t know what they need. While it is unintentional, I think we all agree that the MOST important thing is their safety, and if not going to one party means there isn’t a meltdown, it would be worth it in my book, and I know it would be worth it in yours too.
5. Don’t buy everything
Gifts do not let your child know they are loved – it sends a message that things will fill them up and make them feel happy, when ultimately they are going to feel more empty than before. I am not saying don’t buy gifts, absolutely buy some gifts – but don’t go over the top and buy them EVERYTHING. What you can do is spend plenty of time with them. Help them to understand that relationship is far more valuable than any gift they will ever receive.
6. Take a deep breath
Lastly, take a deep breath – you are doing the best that you can, and so are they. Try to remember that even in the midst of a meltdown for them, they are doing the best that they can. The holidays are hard for all of us, just remember that it’s particularly hard for them. Breath before you respond to anything, and when there is a small tiny glimmer of a good moment, hold on to it!
Hang in there, parents – we know you are doing the best you can too. Lean on who is safe for you for support, and try some of these tricks and figure out what works best for your kiddo.
Until next time,