How To Create Structure During The Chaos Of The Holidays

The Honestly Adoption Podcast - Season 8, Episode 71

The holiday season, specifically Christmas break, is often a dreaded time for foster and adoptive parents because it means a lack of normal structure for their kiddos. How do you navigate through this time successfully?

On today’s episode of The Honestly Adoption Podcast, Mike and Kristin are joined by Licensed Mental Health Counselor and therapist, Ruth Graham as they discuss how to create structure during the chaos of the holidays. This is the conclusion of our 4-part holiday series entitled, “Holiday Survival Tips and Tricks.”

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Notes and Quotes:

“Children that come from hard places live in hyper-vigilance because they don’t have internal felt safety. Felt safety gives the child the ability to navigate chaos.  When we don’t have felt-safety, chaos becomes threatening.  So, the more we can give them structure and expectations of what’s going to happen, the more external safety that gives them, which can calm their internal hyper-vigilance.”  -Ruth Graham

Tips for Navigating through Christmas Break
  • Parents must remember to care for and plan breaks for themselves, as well as for the kids, and keep themselves regulated.
  • Try trading childcare for the day with another family.
  • Posted routines are important.  Use a whiteboard or chalkboard to write out details for the day.
  • On days with an activity, post something about the details the day before.
  • Talk about what the routine next week will look like so they see it coming.
  • Put low expectations for them to meet new people and do new things.  Add days between major events.
What about all of the “extras” during the holiday season?
  • Pick and choose and don’t do everything.
  • Choose sensory-sensitive events.
  • Try to avoid blinking lights.  Find Christmas lights that are more subtle.
  • At home, avoid adding new smells, sights, sounds in your home.
  • Prepare children in advance for activities and how you will approach new situations.
  • Arrive first and leave first.  This is the best for sensory sensitive children.
Strategically planning for memorable family events:
  1. Think about all that you want to do and cross off all of the dis-regulating items.  Let them go.
  2. Share the loss with a friend, accept that it hurts.  It does.
  3. Look at what is left on your list and ask “Which will be most memorable and best for them?”
  4. Items that your children cannot participate in can be scheduled for just you and a spouse or friend.
  5. Explain to family and friends about sensory overload again, but accept that some of them won’t understand it because it is a hidden disorder.
Strategies for dealing with children who become dis-regulated during a big event:
  • Don’t be embarrassed by your children’s reactions.

    “Overstimulation never looks pretty, does it?”

  • Don’t take ownership.  This is not your fault.
  • Have an exit strategy to get out quickly and quietly.
  • Bring noise-reducing headphones for your child.
  • Be willing to offer your child pro-active steps and a plan for when they become dis-regulated.
  • Bring weighted blankets or other comfort items.
  • Make sure those around you know you may need to exit fast.

Ruth’s final thoughts:

The holidays are about the birth and rejoicing as a family, and how that looks for your family is exactly as it should be.  You don’t have to meet someone else’s standards.

Hang on.  You will make it through.  Give yourself a fun day before kids are out of school to regulate yourself.  Make your schedule.  Think of things that calm your child and always bring them.  Be okay if you have to leave.

Don’t take ownership of the behaviors.  Don’t waste energy being disappointed when others don’t understand. Remember God called us to love them, He didn’t call us to fix them.

Resources and Links:

Ruth Graham(MA, LMHCA) is founder and licensed mental health counselor at Hope Counseling Centers. She currently provides client centered counseling throughout the Puget Sound. Ruth specializes in adoption, trauma, and grief. She has over 30 year’s experience working with children and families in foster and adoptive care. Additionally, Ruth has earned a certificate in attachment-trauma therapy and is trained in TF-CBT.

Ruth is a Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) practitioner and a certified Prepare Enrich facilitator, a skill building program customized to each specific relationship’s needs. She serves individuals, couples, and families providing counseling services for children, adolescents, and adults. She provides counseling for several life difficulties including depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties.

Question: Are you dreading Christmas break because of the lack of structure? Share your story with us. What questions do you have? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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