A holiday gift list for adoptive families


Heather Ratzlaff, AFABC family support worker

Family support worker, Heather Ratzlaff, shares her holiday gift ideas for the adoptive family.

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The excitement of the holiday season

Every year at about this time I start to feel the excitement of the holidays and all the wonderful family time that we’ll have together. Making cookies, decorating the tree, bundling up in warm clothing, and looking at the holiday lights. I also start to experience the dread of disappointments and unmet expectations around gifts. Children today expect gifts and toys all the time, and when the holidays rolls around they are expecting a big haul.Family at christmas

We’ve tried all kinds of giving traditions: re-gifting, no gifting, the gift of “presence” (activities), practical gifts, etc.

The holidays can be a stressful time for all families, however parenting children who are neurodiverse around presents some unique challenges. While we want to imbue meaning in the holidays for them, we also want to please our children and have them look forward to a winter break.

This year I have planned a mix of approaches that I believe in and also have tried in the past with some success. Our children are constantly changing and growing, so no matter what stage of parenting you are at I hope something on here will be helpful for you. I’d love to hear back from you about what worked and what didn’t!

The concept of giving

Considering that many of our children struggle to understand cause and effect, we have tried to link gifts with the larger concept of giving. Linking giving as an abstract concept with the very concrete task of helping someone else is a great life lesson – I’m not sure how much of this they have internalized, but we will keep trying. Each year we gift something as a family to someone else, since giving brings joy. Here are some things we have tried:

Make a backpack for homeless youth through the Covenant house program. The kids enjoyed shopping for the teens from the list on the website. They even have an Amazon registry you can use for easy shopping.

We have talked with our kids over the years about children who are less fortunate. We have given World Vision gifts in the past to help them understand. Have them look through the catalogue and choose the gift: chicken, goat, etc. We printed photos of the animals they chose and posted them on the fridge for December so that we had some talking points around giving.

We've also made it easy to give the gift of family through AFABC! Honour the loved ones in your life with a beautiful card and a gift that lasts a lifetime: the gift of family! Your gift supports the Adoptive Families Association of BC. See our Gift of Family Card Campaign here.

Family happy at ChristmasSchool through the holiday season

Our kiddos have a really difficult time staying regulated throughout the holiday season at school. Much of the daily routine is a muddle and it can be challenging for them to keep up the daily rhythms that we have established to help them be successful. In order to motivate getting ready each morning, the kids will each receive an Advent calendar with toys or treats starting on the first day of December. These calendars are a huge incentive to be ready for school in the morning as the kids are only allowed to open the treat for the day once they are seated by the front door, ready to leave the house.

Here are some great advent calendars available: 

Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar.


Lego Friends Advent Calendar.

Hatchimals Advent Calendar.

Playmobile Toddler Advent Calendar.

Social Games

Some children have a really difficult time following the rules and turn taking that is expected in games. Games are great social practice for children who may be behind socially. 

Uno is a basic game that many different ages and stages can play together.

Jenga is another favorite as it is tactile (appeals to our sensory kiddos) and a round doesn’t last long (for our ADHD kiddos that don’t like to sit still for long).

Scrabble is another one that we have adapted many ways to enjoy with kids at different stages. Kids enjoy the feel of the tiles and we can play basic spelling games, more complex rhyming games, building the letters, or play Memory with them. Sometimes not following the rules is very fun.

Sensory toys

Our kids require so much sensory input. Here are some sensory toys that you may want to add to your list.

Stuffed animal storage chair is great for tidying up all their stuffies and they can snuggle and play on it.

When our kids were smaller and they wanted a sensory break, they loved this Ikea chair. They can pull the cover over and just turn. The motion is calming and the cover blocks out the sensory overload for them.

As they got older, we used a hammock to create the vestibular pressure they needed to create calm in their bodies. This one is portable and we set it up when camping, or wherever we head off to, in the summer.

We all fight over this one because it is so comfortable and comforting – it’s easy to inflate with a little wind and then relax and let it hug you tight.

Friends of ours have used this indoor gym set with much success. Physical play can help release the energy that is building up in our kiddos even on a rainy day.

You can't go wrong with Play-Doh. Even our teens don’t mind playing with it around the table with our younger kids. The sensation in your hands is so pleasant. I don’t buy the sets anymore, I just buy the tubs and let kids use hot wheels cars, cutlery, or whatever they can find around the house to play with it.

This sensory tool kit can be a great help.

For littles looking for sensory input and tactile relief, try this sweet little toy.


Books for all ages

New adoptive families may appreciate this adoption journal to help them build a lifebook with their newly adopted child.

Or this one from Etsy.

My daughter and I love the simple language and bright colours of this Todd Parr book.

Adoption affects your whole family and we have enjoyed gifting this book to many of our extended family.

For parents in the thick of life with young neurodiverse children, this book is a great read.

Or escape from it all with an inspiring book. One adoptive dad recommended this one:

Great gifts for the whole family

Unique and trendy gifts are what many teens love. How about supporting mental health with this gorgeous bracelet?

For kiddos that have trouble with their grip, these rainbow crayons make coloring activities fun and don’t single them out as being different.

Have your kids played with Magna-Tiles yet? They're creative and fun.

Do you have trouble getting your littles into the tub? Maybe some magic fairy sparkles will help! We use Epsom salts to entice our kiddos in to a calming bath, and we let them sprinkle their own and add some lavender oil to help them get calm before bed.

We use Calming Oils for our kids in the bath and to diffuse in their rooms. We have created a “Monster Spray” stress away blend with some water in a little misting bottle helps to calm nerves at night. These adorable diffusers can also help with snuffly noses: from Young Living and doTERRA.

Who doesn’t want to escape from reality sometimes? Consider some playful soft costume pieces for your kids with these handmade masks and capes.

Do you have any deaf family or friends? We love these soft t-shirts made by 2 local deaf entrepreneurs!

Want to celebrate diversity? Check out these great posters!

The Wenze boutique has some great options that represent all children and families.

A DNA test can be a great gift for an adult adoptee looking to explore their roots.

Gifts for the adoptive parent and caregiver in your life

How about this festive mug by Rae Dunn?

Or some unbreakable wine glasses.

And this beautiful sweatshirt would be an amazing and cozy gift for anyone!

This Swiss Army Knife is great for any parent who wants to always be prepared.

Help someone relax with this Craft Beer Subscription Box.

One adoptive Grandpa enjoyed seeing a hockey game with his Grandson. Consider gifting tickets and concession money to the child and grandparent, or any hocky fan in your life, as a great experiance gift.

All in all, we wish you and your family an amazing holiday break. Thank you for all that you do for the adoptive community.