Help for the holidays


Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption Magazine
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Holiday seasons can be tricky for any family. Adoption or permanency often adds an additional layer of joy and complexity. Here’s our guide to making it through the season.

When holidays hurt

As well as being a time of fun and family togetherness, celebrations can sometimes be difficult to navigate for adoptive families. For some families who adopt older children who were removed from their birth family or have lived in foster care, celebrations can be associated with tremendous losses and upsetting memories. Here are a few tips to help you make your family’s holiday celebrations special and sensitive.

Girl in Christmas outfit

Move slowly

If you are close to having an older child placed in your family, resist the urge to rush to get them home for the holiday season. Instead, try to arrange a visit or celebration with the foster family in their home.

Go gently

Don’t assume that your child views the holiday season positively. For some children, occasions like Christmas were particularly stressful and are associated with violence and abuse.

Prepare your child

Well before the festive season, talk about how your family celebrates. This ensures that the new child is okay with the plans and keeps their expectations realistic.

Keep it simple

Don’t try to make up for all those previous holiday celebrations by overdoing things. Some of the children have already had adults try to “buy” their affection or “make up” for disappointments with gifts.

Overdoing that first holiday season may also remind the children of what they have missed out on previously and produce very mixed feelings about the upcoming festivities.

Try to gauge the child’s expectations, ask about their experiences of the holiday season, and explain that it’s okay to have sad or mixed feelings.

Start new traditions

Ask the child what their favourite food is or what traditions they may have followed before, and try to include some of those in your celebrations. Your holiday season may not turn out exactly as you had pictured, but by getting your child's input, you'll be creating traditions that are uniquely special to your family and/or community.


A version of this article originally appeared in Focus on Adoption in December 2006.