The first Christmas we had our daughter home with us, we went into the season with high anticipation of the joy she would experience. Family time, cookie decorating, church, gifts, hot chocolate… just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Christmas season fun.
It was terrible. Stressful. High anxiety. Lots of dysregulation. Lots of meltdowns. Not too much family time. Not very much church time. Basically, all of the things we thought would be amazing turned out to be hard.
And I confess, I struggled with it.
Fast forward. The next Christmas we knew a bit more about parenting our daughter and how her brain processes these types of events. We knew a bit more about being proactive rather than reactive. We knew a lot more about going with the flow and being okay with plans that change at the last minute.
One of the changes we decided to make involved how we do gift-giving as a family, and it has been one of changes with the greatest bang for our buck. So, in an effort to help out those who may be feeling the panic start building when they think about navigating Christmas morning with littles who have had a more challenging childhood, I am gifting you with a little pre-Christmas present.
We do a stocking with small trinkets and candy. We also have our “Santa” gift which is typically something larger that the kids may have been wishing for during the year. These things don’t have to be extra expensive, but if we’re getting them something special or if it’s maybe too large to wrap, it comes from Santa. Examples would be the $30 art easel I got from Ikea, or the pricier camera we got one year for our oldest little shutterbug.
After stockings are all unpacked, we break for breakfast. Because children from hard places may need extra regulation help on holidays, I make sure to include good healthy protein in our breakfast. This helps my daughter’s blood sugar stay balanced which in turn, does help her ability to self-regulate.
Once breakfast is over, we head back to the living room for more gift opening. We used to just take turns, and though we always tried to have the same number of gifts for each child, we found that even this was stressful for our daughter. This is where God’s inspiration poured into me, and He used Pinterest to come to our rescue!
We give our children 4 gifts each under the tree. They get something to read, something to wear, something they want, and something they need. These categories have saved our sanity. Not even kidding. We all open our “something to read” at the same time. This way, no one experiences an anxiety hike when they see that they got a shirt and someone else got a toy. We all open our “something to wear” at the same time. Same goes for the other categories. This has helped our daughter feel safe when the wrapping paper flies because she knows in a measurable way that we love her just as much as we love our other children. We always have, but she needed to see it played out in a practical way to feel it.
Maybe you do things a little differently, and that’s great! Maybe your family has always served at a shelter, or sung carols at a nursing home. Maybe your family opens gifts all together with extended family included. Maybe you do Christmas Eve dinner, maybe you invite people over for hot chocolate and dessert. Perhaps you read the Christmas story to your littles as you imagine what it would have been like to walk in the shoes of Joseph or Mary. One of the lovely things about Christmas is how we can celebrate the birth of our Savior in different and yet completely beautiful ways.
Our first Christmas with our girl was a learning experience. I’m thankful that the celebrations since then have been more enjoyable for everyone. All it took was recognizing that the way we had done things before wasn’t going to work anymore; it took realizing that new traditions can be just as fulfilling as old ones.
We know that for her to feel safe and loved she needs to know what is happening next, and that’s a step we can easily say yes to, if for no other reason than to see joy on her face rather than uncertainty or fear.
Wishing you and your family the merriest of Christmases!
– images by Tish Goff
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