How To Help Your Child Process Disappointment During Christmas

The Honestly Adoption Podcast - Season 8, Episode 68

“One of the reasons Christmas is hard is because of our own personal grief and loss issues.”

Coupled with the losses and grief our children may be experiencing, foster and adoptive families can quickly find themselves wondering just how they will survive this season between Halloween and New Year’s Day!

Today we will be kicking off our new podcast series: Holiday Survival Tips and Tricks!  We will spend the next four weeks interviewing amazing therapists about how we can navigate the big emotions and hard moments, with our kids, that tend to rise up during the holiday season. Mike and Kristin are excited to kick off this series with therapist and adoptive dad, Lynn Owens, as they discuss how we can help our children process disappointment and loss.

Listen Now:


Notes and Quotes:

What are we really talking about here?

We are mostly talking about the feelings of loss or sadness due to the “primal wound” and loss or grief that can come from unmet expectations.

Best advice for surviving the holiday season?

Let go of all of your expectations as a parent.


Don’t expect your children to be grateful.

Some kids are verbal about their grief, but some are not.  What do you do when a child pretends everything is OK?
  • Be patient with them
  • Empathy is the most important thing
  • Use little “hit and runs:”  (“seems like you’re feeling ___” and let it just sit there)
  • Find little moments to cuddle up or catch up
How do we navigate relationships with birth family that a child may have contact with?
  • Avoid disappointments when possible: Don’t tell about a planned visit until you actually see the parent in the parking lot.
  • When there are disappointments, let them grieve.
  • Use empathy.
  • Don’t pretend that it isn’t hard; don’t try to cover up or get over grief.
What can we do about the big blow-ups or melt-downs during the holiday season?
  • Assume big blow-ups around the holiday season are grief related.
  • Validate and Empathize
    • “This is sad and I can’t stop it.  It is OK for you to grieve, but it isn’t OK to do it alone.”
    • “Of course you’re struggling with that.  I can’t make it better, but I can be here with you.”
  • Remember, this isn’t a bad kid behaving badly, this is a traumatized kid reacting from trauma
    • “Grieving is hard work and it is physically demanding.”
    • Telling kids to just “stop” or “go to their room” until they can stop the outburst or perform better won’t help them develop self-regulation or connection.
    • Use “How can I help you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”

“These kids want to make us the enemy.  If we can side step that, and become their biggest advocate, we will be much farther along in the process.” – Lynn Owens

What do you do with disregulation after visits with birth families?
  • Verbal engagement in the moment usually isn’t helpful
  • Give them a way to get out the cortisol and other stress hormones with physical activity (trampoline park, playground).
  • Use a regulating activity with bilateral stimulation (extra long car ride).
  • Be present with them.  Empathize.  Kids can’t regulate on their own.
  • Maintain control of your own emotions as a parent. Remain calm, remain firm.
  • Let go of your expectations and don’t take it personally.
What would you say to a parent who really feels sad during this time?
  • Talk about it with someone.
  • Take care of yourself (eating well and exercise).
  • Don’t hide it; use the sadness to connect and empathize.
  • Let all of your expectations go.
  • Give kids the gift of yourself; be present with them.

Resources and Links:

Lynn Owens, CHMS, NCC, specializes in helping children recover from abuse, neglect and other forms of trauma. Although Lynn treats children, youth and adults with many mental health, trauma and relational issues, the main focus of his practice is working with families who adopt children from difficult places. Learn more about Lynn and his family at Canyon Lakes Family Counseling Center.

Pick up a copy of Dr. Dan Seigel’s book, “Parenting from the Inside Out.” (You can also visit our podcast website here to order a copy today!)

Find out more about Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Ira Chassnoff.

Are you an adoptive or foster dad who’s tired of trying to “fix” your child, tired of asking “why?” or maybe just wondering if there’s anyone else out there who gets it?  Consider attending Road Trip next October. This would make a great Christmas gift for those adoptive and foster dads you may know!

Question: Are holidays hard around your house? Leave a comment and let us know what questions you have about how to navigate through this season. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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