“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas would be there……..” As traditional families prepare for the holidays excited to settle in their own traditions of cooking, baking, Christmas Carols, decorating, and family gatherings, for many children in the foster care system their holidays are not as cheerful. Some are not accustomed to being around family and receiving gifts, others remember waking up on Christmas without any presents under the tree, while the majority are in a new environment expecting to be as excited about the holidays as the family where they now reside.
Foster parents can help the children in their homes handle the overstimulation during the holidays. It is important to understand that children who have experienced trauma such as abuse or neglect their amygdala can become aroused more than usual as this is the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional reactions. Sensory neurons are nerve cells within the nervous system that are responsible for transforming external stimuli from an individual’s environment into internal electrical impulses. This is how individuals internalize certain responses or actions from another individual which may be positive or negative depending on how it is perceived.
Foster children in response can be triggered by external stimuli such as smell, touch, hearing, vision or taste. Foster parents can help support them by not taking their actions as a direct reflection of their care, and try to determine what could have triggered a reaction in the child. Did a particular song play on the radio, that reminded the child of an experience in their home, did you light a specific candle that reminded them of the smell in their previous environment, or is anyone in the home wearing a particular scent that may remind the child of an abuser?
Did you possibly cook a particular dish that may remind the child of what they were forced to it at home? Please also inform extended family members that the child in your home may not react well to hugs, if your family is the hugging type. It would be beneficial to advise family members to ask permission before any hugging or touching of any kind takes place. As the foster parent, you can also discuss with the child what type of touch they would accept such as a high five or fist bump, and family members could use this to show their affection. There is also an important fact to remember is that children may revert to the comfort of their bedroom while family is gathered as they process their emotions. It is perfectly ok to allow this type of behavior and not to take it personal.
Everyone have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season from our family to yours!!