8 Ways to give your adopted child what they need this holiday

Nov 23, 2015 at 2:13 p.m. ET
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You might be expecting a tidy little list of unique and specially crafted items that will warm the sometimes chilly heart of your adopted child. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can wrap to fit that bill, except maybe your arms around your holiday-challenged child. What I can offer are eight gifts your child actually needs to feel surrounded by love and light during this holiday season of celebrations.

1. Emotions

First, the gift of an emotionally regulated parent is paramount to happy holiday. How will you get that as well as give it away every day through Jan. 2?

Tip: A perpetually-filled mug of spiked eggnog is not the answer.

2. Planning

A low-key, slow-paced, well-planned and simply structured holiday schedule will tickle you silly and keep harmony in your celebrations. Pick only a few highlights for your children to indulge in between November and January, then tie a bow on the holiday season and mark it done without all the stress.

3. Patience

Your patience nicely wrapped with curly ribbon during merriment, revelry and shenanigans will be a relief to all around you. You know the saying: "When mommy and daddy are happy, children — and others around them — are happy."

4. Get out of jail free card

Give your child a Get out of Jail Free card for adult parties, eight-hour shopping sprees, Black Friday insanity, sit-down white-linen family affairs at high-end restaurants and black-tie, evening weddings, Midnight Mass, attendance at holiday a cappella recitals or even a late night performance of The Nutcracker — which is not really for young children anyway, a matinee is. Reserve your childcare workers now for later. You will better enjoy all those activities sans persnickety children.

5. Short gift lists

Provide a short gift list to family members and friends, indicating that the things on the list are in the best interest of your child’s attachment and healing. No, that is not rude; it is necessary for some families to manage things like electronics, offensive video games, guns, flak jackets and inappropriate clothing.

6. No electronics

Electronics are poisonous to developing brains. Resist the urge to give them for presents. Don't dose your own children no matter how much they beg for it. You wouldn't give them crack, just because they really, really, really wanted it, right?

7. Handmade

Consider making gifts together — cookies, soup ingredients, food baskets, handmade decorations, written letters of appreciation, personally written poems and framed art. You are probably not Amish, but there is something to be said for a simpler life.

8. Exposure

Finally, expose your children on multiple occasions to the gift of helping those who are less fortunate. Children from difficult beginnings understand and connect with giving. Help develop new neural pathways for the meaning and spirit of the season — gratitude, love and caring for others. Wouldn't it be interesting if there were no holidays where getting more stuff ended up seeming like the point?

Attachment-challenged traumatized children often have anniversary grief during the holidays. They pine for whitewashed memories of the past, even when it wasn't that great. Sometimes, they long for lives lived only in their imaginations; losing even the possibility of a happy birth family life is painfully sad for them. The eight gifts above will go a long way toward lowering toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is chronically raised in our children over the course of these three celebratory months. Lowered cortisol through regulation, relationship and relaxation is the best ingredient for happy holidays with adopted children and their parents.

To read about the effects of adverse childhood experiences by Ce Eshelman, LMFT go to Wisdom For Adoptive Parents and The Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships.