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Parenting Kids Who Sabotage the Holidays

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

The holidays are a special part of the year that most people look forward to, but for some families, the thought brings fear or even dread. For children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder or have experienced early childhood trauma or for children with ADHD or sensory processing issues, the holidays can be hard. In fact, sometimes children who fall into those categories will sabotage the holidays.

It is not much fun walking around on eggshells knowing that your child is on a hair trigger and may be set off at any second. But holidays are not much fun for those kids either. Big days can be a reminder of all that they have lost or of how their brain works differently than other people’s do or of how far their behaviour is from what they want it to be.

Advice for parenting a child who sabotages the holidays #parenting #parentingadvice #adoptionSome of our kids have at times sabotaged big days including birthdays (other people’s and even their own), Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, graduations, anniversaries, family celebrations, vacations, times of accomplishment when others are the center of attention, Father’s Day, and often in particular, Mother’s Day. The root of the sabotaging behaviours is often guilt and shame, but there can be other causes as well. It’s not just adopted kids who sabotage the holidays. There are many reasons a child may do this.

Possible motivations for kids to sabotage the holidays:

  1. Feeling unworthy. Abandonment or the perception of abandonment in children who have been adopted or who have had one parent leave the family can lead to a deep sense of shame. This may make them feel as if they are unworthy of love, unworthy of having good things happen to them, unworthy of gifts or attention. With that entrenched feeling of being unworthy of truly feeling happy, sabotaging behaviours can begin to emerge. They may sabotage so that they can force what they see as inevitable disappointment. If their parent then responds in anger to their sabotaging behaviour, it only further validates their belief that they are unlovable.
  2. Triggers. During the holidays, triggers are everywhere. Smells, sights, sounds, memories of the past… the holidays can be a minefield to navigate. These triggers can cause a fight, flight or freeze response.
  3. Excitement and anxiety feel the same in the body. Read that sentence again. It’s a biggie! Butterflies in the stomach, quickening of breathing rate, a loudly thumping heart, sweating, and trouble sleeping are the same body responses whether you are feeling excited or nervous. When your child feels those body sensations, it can bring memories of times of stress when they felt that way due to anxiety.
  4. Lack of routine during the holidays can make certain children feel a lack of control. They may then attempt to assert control and take charge. The unpredictability and uncertainty can feel unsafe to them. With less of a set schedule, they may also be overtired and be eating poorly which can also affect behaviour and mood.
  5. The holidays often come with sensory overload. This can lead to sensory meltdowns which unintentionally sabotages the holidays
  6. The weight of expectations. When a child believes that he will fall short of the expectations placed on him, he may decide to just quickly blow things up to get it over with. The stress that come with anticipating the disappointment they may cause can be overwhelming.
  7. For children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Christmas can be a nightmare because during the holiday season, relationships are usually the focus and there is more emphasis put on family togetherness and unity. This feels like a threat to kids who are putting protective walls up when it comes to family relationships.
  8. Unreasonable expectations. Even the most neurotypical, well grounded children tend to have high expectations during the holidays. This is sometimes magnified in kids who have a trauma history or have sensory needs. Some adopted children have a fantasy of what life would be like with their biological parents and nothing in reality can live up to that fantasy.
  9. Grief. Oh my. Consider a simple tradition such as decorating the Christmas tree. Our family’s collection of ornaments includes those Baby’s First Christmas ornaments and handprint ones I made when many of our kids were newborns. How must that feel for our kids who joined our family when they were 4 and 7? I can buy them ornaments to represent their first years and their milestones, but I cannot replace the hardships of their early years. Holidays have so many things that can magnify grief, sadness and loss.
  10. Protection. Attempting to protect their heart from further disappointment, a child who has experienced early trauma will put walls up and push others away. With everything being magnified during the holidays, those walls have a tendency to go higher and that pushing away can turn to an aggressive shove (literally or figuratively).

Parenting kids who sabotage the holidays:

  • Lower your own expectations.
  • Provide a lot of opportunity for sensory input.
  • Create a calm down kit for your child.
  • Maintain routines as much as possible.
  • Talk candidly with your child ahead of time. Speak factually about past holidays and their challenges with them. Brainstorm strategies with them to help this year go more smoothly.
  • Less presents! When it comes to kids who struggle with the holidays, less is more.
  • Simplify. Practise saying “no” to some of the invitations so that you do not over schedule.
  • Be willing to let go of things that don’t work for your child. You may need to set aside even treasured holiday traditions for a few years.
  • Some kids do not do well with surprises. Even though you may think that surprises are fun, they may cause additional stress for your child. If your child falls into this category, resist the urge to surprise them.
  • Prepare your child ahead of time what to expect. Tell them where you are going, who will be there, how long you will be staying, what you will be doing there, and what your expectations are of them. Use a calendar to give them as much notice as you can of upcoming events.
  • Make a plan with them for where they can go at an event if it becomes too much for them or a signal they can give you that they have reached their limit.
  • Talk with your family members and close friends ahead of time and explain why the holidays can be rough for your child and what they can do to minimize the difficulty.
  • Manage their expectations. If your child has asked for a gift that is out of budget or not something you want them to have, tell them ahead of time that they won’t be receiving it. Speak about how not everything during the holidays go as planned or as wished for. Come up with strategies for managing disappointment.
  • Include therapeutic and/or sensory breaks on the big day. Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving or Christmas, be willing to pause everything to practise some calm-down techniques.
  • Accept that there will be meltdowns (or tantrums or rages), but follow these steps to keep their frequency and intensity as low as possible.
  • Talk to your child about which family traditions are hard for them and ways you can make them easier. Gift exchanges are hard for some kids. I let one of my daughters wrap her gifts with me. She then knows what she will be getting, but it takes the anxiety out of it for her and makes Christmas day run more smoothly for everyone.
  • Make small promises and then follow through on them in order to maintain trust.
  • Talk ahead of time to your child about how excitement and anxiety feel the same in the body and then in the moment, help them distinguish which they are feeling.
  • Never equate gifts with behaviour. For children who have experienced trauma, the whole “naughty or nice list” is a disastrous concept. Do not take away or threaten to take away gifts or threaten that “Santa won’t come if…” with children who are trying to just hold it together each day.
  • Remember: “They aren’t giving you a hard time. They are having a hard time.”

The good news:

When parenting a child with attachment issues or early childhood trauma, it is important for them to hear “yes”. This does not mean buying them everything on their wish list. In fact, that would not be healthy for them, but the holidays do give you more opportunity to say “yes”.

“Yes, I will sit and do the puzzle with you.”

“Yes, I will be at your Christmas concert. I am so proud to be your mom.”

“Yes, you can have a candy cane.”

“Yes, we can drive around and look at Christmas lights. Let’s bring some hot chocolate!”

“Yes, you can help me make the gravy.”

“Yes, you can help me wrap presents.”

“Yes, you can help me plan the dinner.”

“Yes, you can hang some ornaments.”

“Yes, we can decorate cookies.”

To get your free printable sheet of ideas to say “yes” and connect with your child over the holidays, click this link or fill out the form below.

The holidays also allow opportunities for activities to increase eye contact and to promote family togetherness.

No matter how much you prepare and plan, the holidays can still be challenging. To all the parents steeling themselves for the sabotage, grieving the holiday you wish you could have, I see you. You are not alone.

The Chaos and The Clutter Community Center is an online support and resource center offering that “me too” feeling to moms who are parenting children with high needs, particularly those with kids who have trauma, attachment or sensory related needs. I would love to have you join us!

Calming a Child’s Fight, Flight or Freeze Response

DIY Sensory Gift Basket

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Wondering what to get the sensory seekers in your life? Create your own sensory gift basket and personalize it by tailoring it to meet their sensory needs. While the recipient that comes to mind immediately for such a gift may be a child, you can also make this to suit an adult as well.

Sensory Gift Basket for the sensory seekers in your life #giftbasket #sensory #giftideasI love trying to come up with unique gift ideas that will really make the recipient feel like they are cared about. By customizing this gift basket, you can show the person you are gifting it to how well you know them and their sensory preferences.

What I included in my sensory gift basket:

You will want to choose your items based on what you know of their sensory preferences and their personality. I created my gift for one of my kids to help them with their sensory processing. I know that they are going to be thrilled with it, especially once they see the mermaid pillow and owl chewable necklace. I think they will have a lot of fun with the squirmy worm and the magic poo, but that within a few days, the sound therapy machine and the palm massager will win over their affection because of how their sensory needs are met with them.

Ideas to Personalize Your Sensory Gift Basket:

  • If you know a family whose child has been recently diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, you could put together a Sensory Survival Kit type of gift basket and as well as including some sensory basics, you could include a copy of the book Sensory Processing 101.
  • You can build the basket around one sensory system such as creating an entire basket around the Tactile system by including putty and Sensory Stepperz or center it around the Vestibular system and include an indoor pod swing.
  • Another idea is to create the gift with one larger ticket item such as a sensory blanket or mini trampoline and then include a few other items to complete the gift.
  • Make a mini sensory gift bag with some small fidgets and a sensory brush or pencil topper.
  • Create a sensory gift basket for a senior with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sensory stimulation therapy has been shown to be effective for triggering emotion and memories and increasing engagement in patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Fill a basket with items for a sensory room. A large item idea would be to include a bean bag chair, a weighted blanket or indoor rings to hang from, but you could also include smaller items such as lighting or knobby balls.

Other Ideas for Your Sensory Gift Basket:

Putting together a sensory gift basket doesn’t need to be expensive. You can make the sensory balls and playdough yourself at home and find many great sensory items at the dollar store. You can also add an even more personal touch by adding a themed sensory bag or sensory bottle that you made yourself. You could also include tactile sensory cards made with things you already have around the house.

The past few years, gift baskets have been my absolute favourite way to give presents. I find that you can make them so personal. They are such a unique gift that they stand out in this world of the more impersonal gift cards and cash.

Click to see some of our past gift baskets:

Road Trip Gift Basket

Spy Secrets Gift BasketThis Spy Secrets gift box is perfect to make for the hard to buy for man (or woman) in your life!

Christmas Sensory Bottles

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

These Christmas sensory bottles are sure to provide hours of discovery for kids. From snow globe sensory bottles to I-spy explorations to combining science and sensory, you will find all kinds of ideas for creating holiday sensory bottles here.

Sensory bottles can also have a calm down effect and with the excitement of Christmas approaching, that can certainly be a very good thing! Try creating one for yourself and you’ll discover what a gem they can be.

Christmas Sensory Bottles:

Christmas Counting I-Spy Discovery Bottle from here on The Chaos and The Clutter

Christmas Ornament Sensory Bottle from here on The Chaos and the Clutter

Floating Confetti Christmas Sensory Bottle from Teaching Mama

Jingle Bell Magnetic Sensory Bottle from Parenting Chaos

Christmas Tree in a Bottle from Sunny Day Family

Snow Globe Sensory Bottle at The Best Ideas for Kids

Liquid Density Christmas Science Bottle on Little Bins with Little Hands

Christmas I-Spy Bottle from Simple Play Ideas

Christmas Sensory Bottle from Teaching Mama

Christmas I-Spy Bottles from Little Bins for Little Hands

Magnetic Sensory Bottles from No Time for Flash Cards

Christmas Tree Calm Down Bottle at Stir the Wonder

Christmas Sensory Bottle for Babies and Toddlers from Laughing Kids Learn

Winter Sensory Bottles:

Melted Snowman Sensory Bottle from here on The Chaos and The Clutter

Snowflake Sensory Bottle from here on The Chaos and The Clutter

Arctic Sensory Bottle from here on The Chaos and The Clutter

Frozen Inspired Snowstorm Sensory Bottle at Rhythms of Play

Snowmen in a Snowstorm Sensory Bottle from Modern Preschool

Penguin Sensory Bottle from Teaching Mama

Snowman Sensory Bottle from Little Bins for Little Hands

Blizzard in a Bottle on No Time for Flash Cards

Winter Wonderland Snowflake Sensory Bottle from The Jenny Evolution

You may also be interested in these holiday sensory activities for kids:

Christmas Sensory BinsChristmas sensory activitiesChristmas Sensory Activities

The Big List of Christmas Playdough Mats

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Playdough mats are an excellent sensory and learning experience for kids. With the holiday season approaching, I wanted to share these free Christmas Playdough Mats and playdough activities with you. It is such a big list of Christmas playdough mats!

With the holiday season approaching, I wanted to share these free Christmas Playdough Mats and playdough activities with you. It is such a big list of Christmas playdough mats!Playdough mats are a wonderful sensory and learning activity for kids. They also happen to be a great way to keep kids busy while you wrap gifts or do holiday baking or get the house cleaned up for all that company that may be coming your way.

Christmas Playdough Mats and Activities:

The Christmas Playdough Mats Activity from The Natural Homeschool includes cute playdough cards and suggestions for using things such as cranberries and glitter with the playdough.

Shaunna over at Fantastic Fun and Learning shares a Candy Cane Play Dough Writing Tray. What a neat Christmas sensory activity for preschoolers!

In this article from Schooling a Monkey, you’ll find Preschool STEM Challenges and Experiments using Christmas playdough.

These Christmas Playdough Mats at Totschooling are some of the cutest I have ever seen!

My favourite page of these printable from Picklebums is the Santa Needs Some Clothes.

Fantastic Fun and Learning has Free Printable Christmas Ornament Playdough Mats.

Sheryl at Teaching 2 & 3 Year Olds created an Easy Snowman Building Playdough Activity that needs very little set up.

For kids who are learning their numbers, these Christmas Tree Playdough Mats for Numbers 1-10 from Life Over C’s are a great fit.

For kids who are ready for addition, these Christmas Tree Math Playdough Mats at School Time Snippets are a fun way to learn.

This Playdough Christmas Tree Craft for Kids from The Educator’s Spin on It is really cute.

The Christmas Tree Counting Play Dough Mats over at Simple Fun for Kids combine a bit of learning in with the play.

These Free Christmas Playdough Mats from 123Homeschool4Me have a lot of variety.

This Decorate a Play Dough Christmas Tree kit made by Mama Papa Bubba would make a lovely gift to give. She’s also created an adorable Build Your Play Dough Snowman Kit.

With the holiday season approaching, I wanted to share these free Christmas Playdough Mats and playdough activities with you. It is such a big list of Christmas playdough mats!

More Christmas Playdough Mats:

Scented Christmas Day Playdough Recipe from Nurture Store

Christmas Tree Playdough from Homegrown Friends

Printable Christmas Playdough Mats from Emma Owl

Christmas Cookie Tray Counting Mats from 123 Homeschool 4 Me

Christmas Tree Playdough Mats at Simple Fun for Kids

Cute Christmas Counting Playdough Mats from Natural Beach Living

Christmas and Winter Playdough Mats from This Reading Mama

Counting Gumdrops Gingerbread Man Play Dough Mats from The Kindergarten Connection

Christmas Counting Mats from Pre-K Pages

If you’re looking for the perfect homemade playdough recipe to use with these Christmas playdough mats, I’ve got you covered! Check out these Christmas playdough recipes.