How to help adopted children cope with Christmas

How to help adopted children cope with Christmas

For an adopted child, Christmas, like so many other celebrations days (birthdays, mothers’ day) can be a challenge. The language of Christmas is so loaded. Have you been naughty or nice this year? It’s only nice children that get what they want for Christmas. Christmas can be a time when we have lots of visitors, our routine changes and we have to eat food we haven’t eaten for a whole year! Yup Christmas can be tough for adopted children.

We are now entering our fifth Christmas, our second in Paris. I’m not saying ours is perfect, but we have managed to develop some coping strategies to help our adopted children cope with Christmas.

Helping our adopted children cope with Christmas

1. We stay close to home

Actually, we don’t budge.

Christmas Day is spent in our house, if you want to see us well you’d better pay us a visit. We’ve been very firm about this. Our children don’t react well to moving around, holidays are tough, so I am not going to complicate matters by moving about (well apart from our move to Paris).

Paris is now our home, and this is where you are going to find us this Christmas. Joyeaux Noel!

2. Keep calm, be predictable

All kids get excited by Christmas, and my two get a little over excited. It’s a good excitement, but still, they find it hard to control their emotions, they find it hard to self-regulate.

We try and keep life as routine as possible, keep the Christmas excitement levels to a minimum. OK, yes we are a bit boring!

3. Creating new Christmas rituals

A new family, new traditions.

Before having children, Christmas was great, but I wasn’t big on it. But now, with children, Christmas means so much more, and we have created our own rituals with our children.

Like many other families, we bake Christmas cookies for Santa, leave carrots out for Rudolph, and we always, always, read the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

One of our favourite traditions to do is to choose the family Christmas tree, this has become a big tradition in our house.

On Christmas day, the children get to choose one present to open before lunch, then the remaining presents are opened after lunch.

We need to spread that excitement/anxiety level out! And this way the children don’t get bored of their presents before the day is out.

4.The language of Christmas is so important

The language of Christmas is potent.

Have children been good or bad? Are you on Santa’s good list? Will you be getting all your presents this year? Children are judged by this mythical man in a red suit. Talk about pressure to try and be good!

The lead up to Christmas can feel like living in a pressure cooker. And yes, there is the odd explosion, two or three (and right on cue ours have already started!)

We just take it one day at a time, attempting to keep life on an even keel, keeping calm and being predictable.

And lot’s and lots of reassurance, our kids are good, and yes, Santa will be stopping by where ever we are living.

5. Sensory overload

From the lack of routine during the holidays, holiday visitors, new or unusual food, crackers, decorations, the surprise of presents, there can be any number of triggers that can cause an adopted child to dysregulate.

Our strategy is to set out our boundaries, limiting the number of activities during the day, have plenty of down time, making sure our kids know what’s happening each day,  keeping food familiar and making sure meal-times and bed-time stay the same.

And then we broke our rules

It was just too tempting.

King of the Mountains had a conference in Brussels. And we could hop on a train from Paris (just an hour and twenty minutes) and join him for the weekend to eat waffles, drink hot chocolate, explore the city and visit the Christmas market.

It was a great weekend. But it was sensory overload: too much fun, too much excitement, too many new things to contend with and we were way off routine.

We had squabbles, we had grumbles, we had non-stop fidgetting, we had I’m not eating that – it’s disgusting, it’s yuk, we had refusing to eat anything but Pizza, we had dysregulation, we had tantrums, culminating in an almighty comedown at the end of our trip.

Even after five years, yup, Christmas is still tough.

If you have adopted children and trying to cope with Christmas – I’m with you!


For more advice on how to help your adopted children cope with Christmas check out Adoption UK and this excellent blog post by fellow adoption blogger Hannah Meadows.

Picture credit: Kevin Dooley courtesy of Flickr

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  1. April 24, 2018 / 10:19 pm

    My younger brother and his wife have been thinking about adopting a child as soon as they both graduate college. I love your tip about limiting the number of activities during the day and have downtime to prevent over-stimulation around the holidays. This seems like a great way to help introduce them to fun traditions without stressing them out.

    • Tooting Mama
      April 25, 2018 / 2:50 pm

      Thank you, Christmas is a joyous time but it is total emotional overload!

  2. Hannah G, The 'Ordinary' Mum
    December 18, 2016 / 11:53 pm

    A really wonderful post lovely, sounds like you’ve got a pretty lovely Christmas routine, spreading out the presents on christmas day sounds like a particularly good idea- for any family. Thank you for sharing with #bigpinklink x
    Hannah G, The ‘Ordinary’ Mum recently posted…Weekend Tot Style #12My Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 21, 2016 / 7:59 pm

      Thank you, it’s taken a while, but we have started to finally figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s always evolving! I do recommend spreading the presents out, that way the kids get to play with them all!

  3. December 15, 2016 / 11:02 pm

    I think the excitement of Christmas can bring all kids to a pressure cooker situ, it’s so difficult to get the right balance. You sound like you’re on the right track though. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday x
    Kerry recently posted…Arty Apple Personalised Aprons ReviewMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 21, 2016 / 7:58 pm

      Thank you so much for the comment, our pressure cooker is still on, but just a few days left to go!

  4. December 13, 2016 / 7:46 pm

    I love Christmas, it can be such a magical time. But it is also a very stressful and highly emotional time. I feel like my eldest is a pressure cooker with all the excitement of it all. My favourite thing about Christmas is that we get to be a family for a long period in our home. My husband is off work and we can just be together. No rushing off on holiday or worrying about work, the world shuts down for a little bit. And I am totally with you on the naughty and nice thing, that really needs to change its not language that we use. Thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x

    • Tooting Mama
      December 13, 2016 / 9:30 pm

      I do agree, the best thing about the holidays is that we are all together, and by then the pressure cooker has eased off. Have an amazing Christmas and a brilliant New Year, and here’s to sharing more blog love in 2017!

  5. December 12, 2016 / 10:55 pm

    Your posts on the topic of adoption are always very educational. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be going through this but these tips seem like they would really benefit someone in this situation.

    Jordanne ||
    Jordanne | Thelifeofaglasgowgirl recently posted…Review │My Cupcake ToppersMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 13, 2016 / 9:36 pm

      Aww thank you for that lovely comment. I do hope these tips help other people in this situation. Sometimes you feel like you are the only person going through this, but the reality it’s a common issue that so many of us experience.

  6. December 12, 2016 / 10:49 pm

    I stopped by to read because my friend’s children are adopted but I actually got a lot of tips for my kids too. My daughter is a stickler for routine and always has preferred a bit of a routine so she can know what to expect, I think it helps them feel secure. #KCACOLS

    • Tooting Mama
      December 13, 2016 / 9:40 pm

      Thank you. I’m so glad this post has helped you – that’s brilliant.

      So many children love routine. My children hate surprises, they always need to know what’s happening when, especially when it comes to holiday times when the regular routine is disrupted.

  7. yvonne
    December 12, 2016 / 9:09 pm

    Great post and it really sounds like you have made such a wonderful and stable environment for your children. I also agree with the naughty / nice list thing, I have said it a few times and then felt a bit uncomfortable with it I have to admit #sharingthebloglove
    yvonne recently posted…German Christmas MarketsMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 21, 2016 / 8:02 pm

      Thank you! Christmas can be a tricky time, and we do try and stick to our routine. I do have trouble with the naughty and nice list, it’s horrible to categorise children like that! I do hope you have a lovely Christmas!

  8. December 12, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    Really interesting post, thanks for sharing. I have no experience of adoption, or know anyone that does and had never thought of Christmas from that perspective – or any other special day for that matter. Can of course totally see why it’s not necessarily a happy time for every child. Sounds like yours are very lucky to have you in their lives though, and I’m sure you feel the same about them. They’ve now got many Happy Christmas’ to look forward to, even if you do feel as though you’re muddling through sometimes.

    • Tooting Mama
      December 12, 2016 / 7:04 pm

      Muddling through is just how I feel, some days getting it right, other days spectacularly wrong! But that’s parenthood. We’re counting down to Christmas, keeping calm and predictable and before we know it, it will be over, so better enjoy all the ups and downs!

  9. Fancy
    December 12, 2016 / 3:01 pm

    I really enjoyed this article and have shared on twitter . #bigpinklink

    • Tooting Mama
      December 12, 2016 / 7:04 pm

      Thank you so much!

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 9:36 pm

      Thank you so much. It’s a fraught time at the moment so many issues bubbling under the surface, but we still love Christmas.

  10. Zena's Suitcase
    December 11, 2016 / 7:16 pm

    So much great advice here. I can imagine how tough it is. My own childhood Christmas’s weren’t perfect and it took years to really be comfortable with the whole experience
    Zena’s Suitcase recently posted…My Christmas Family Holiday Wishlist #travel #familytravelMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 9:37 pm

      Thank you. Christmas isn’t always perfect, and there is so much pressure to be seen to be having a perfect time. I’ve had my fair share of not so great Christmases too. I hope this year is a great one for you!

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 9:39 pm

      We’re trying to keep life on an even keel, just two more weeks to go and the pressure is mounting! We have already had a few meltdowns and some interesting anxiety-related behaviour has started to appear! But we are staying calm, and being predictable!

  11. December 11, 2016 / 5:16 pm

    I can completely understand how Christmas could be overwhelming for adopted children – it’s such an intense and emotional time. I love your Christmas traditions, I think carving out our family traditions has been my favourite part of the last few Christmasses. I’m another one who’s not a fan of the ‘naughty or nice’ wording – I don’t tend to use the word naughty at all, and I don’t think it’s a positive way for a child to see themselves. Much better to talk about the behaviour rather than put a label on your child in my view. Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove
    Katy – Hot Pink Wellingtons recently posted…Our favourite Christmas books for toddlersMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 9:43 pm

      I do think the language of Christmas and children should change as it really labels kids as either ‘naughty’ or ‘nice and I agree so much better just to talk about behaviour.

      I’ve just loved creating our traditions it’s really helped build a strong foundation for our Christmases.

      Hope you have a wonderful Christmas this year!

  12. December 11, 2016 / 2:05 pm

    Interesting and thought-provoking post. I think that a lot of what you say can (or should) be applied to biological children as well – mine are certainly over-excited and I feel myself bribing them to do things that I want with the carrot of ‘santa’ and ‘presents’ coming their way at Christmas time. Probably not a good way for me to behave either! #KCACOLS

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 9:46 pm

      Christmas is such a funny time – brings out the best in us and dare I say sometimes not the best. But we have to navigate our way through and release a bit of the pressure! Only two weeks to go! Have a great Christmas!

  13. December 10, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    You are doing a great job and making Christmas such a special time. It sounds like you have so much fun together 🙂

  14. Kerry Norris
    December 10, 2016 / 2:43 pm

    Lovely to hear that you’ve given them a loving home. I bet that time of year can be so difficult so these are fab tips for people who’ve adopted children x

  15. December 10, 2016 / 2:26 pm

    this is a great post, and so useful for those going through similar things. i agree on sensory overload – it’s important to try to keep things calm (ish!)

    • Tooting Mama
      December 11, 2016 / 1:43 pm

      We are trying to remain calm, it can be tough, but just a couple more weeks to go!

  16. December 9, 2016 / 1:00 pm

    It’s lovely that you’ve created such a stable atmosphere for them and even if sometimes venturing out doesn’t quite work, it lets you know how much more you can do next time. I hope you have a really lovely Xmas!!
    Notmyyearoff recently posted…Those Christmas hot chocolatesMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 9, 2016 / 4:20 pm

      Aww thank you! That’s such a lovely comment. Here’s to hoping we can be little more spontaneous soon! You have a wonderful Christmas too!

  17. Sarah Bella
    December 9, 2016 / 11:44 am

    This is a really helpful post! I also agree on the naughty/nice thing, I don’t do that with my children, the pressure is overwhelming enough without adding in having to be good all the time. Kids are kids at the end of the day. I think setting boundaries & limiting the number of activities is a good idea too! Really great post, I enjoyed reading this xx
    Sarah Bella recently posted…The return of the young prince by A.G Roemmers {Children’s book review}My Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 9, 2016 / 4:21 pm

      Thank you! I do agree about the language of Christmas, it can be hard for some children who don’t quite fit the model of being ‘nice’ and then believe they won’t be getting their presents. As you say kids are kids and they are going to make mistakes just like us! Have a great Christmas!

  18. Claire
    December 9, 2016 / 9:23 am

    This is a really good post, thank you for sharing your experiences. I don’t like all the ‘naughty or nice’ language at Christmas, I would never want my boys feeling like they are undeserving or unworthy of a gift just because they got a little over excited or cheeky. xx #sharingthebloglove
    Claire recently posted…Depression Without DiagnosisMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      December 9, 2016 / 4:23 pm

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We’re having a lot of cheekiness in our house at the moment, but Santa will still be stopping by. The language if very divisive and not helpful at all. Hope you have a fab Christmas!

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