In this house, order equals safety for most of the occupants. For some of us, it feels a little bit like a prison. For some of the same people, even if it feels like a prison, they can’t function without it. Such is life in a house full of adoptees with sensory processing issues and emotional disturbances during the holidays.
If you are like us, (and if you are, I’m so, so sorry) the holidays can take a year’s worth of order and fling it into absolute chaos in less than a day. Between the school parties that turn school days into sugar-fueled raves and holiday travel that takes bedtime routine and throws it off a cliff, it is no wonder our kids are a little . . . off this time of year. For us, that looks like temper tantrums, meltdowns over the word “no,” refusal to go to bed because they might miss something fun (spoiler, they’re not missing anything ), and throwing a fit over receiving the “wrong” gift at Christmas. The list goes on.
For our less-aggressive lot, it means not talking for a day or two at a time, clinging to my arm like an octopus afraid of meeting its demise, crawling up my body in a profound wish that they could somehow exist inside me as a parasite, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t find myself feeling in similar ways. I want to retreat. I want to hide. I want to curl up in a ball, cover my ears, squish my eyes shut, and ignore everything and everyone that is crying out for my attention.
All that to say, the holidays are a lot for everyone and they are even more so for people with emotional dysregulation. So how do we go about fixing it? I would have said at one point that keeping a routine during the holidays could mitigate most of the problems. That was before I actually had kids and people couldn’t care less if my husband and I could travel to see them. It’s easy to keep a schedule and routine for two people. It is much less easy to do so for seven individuals with families who all expect their own piece of time with them. So, barring simply becoming antisocial and keeping everyone home and on a rigid schedule over break, what is an adoptive parent to do? Here are some things that have helped us ease back into normalcy after the holidays.
1. Reestablish bedtime routine a few days before the break is over.
This is easier said than done, but it is worth doing anyway. We try to make it worth their while with extra storytime and a bedtime snack, but it is important that their normal bedtime is met a few days before it is necessary. Otherwise, the night before school starts up again is met with tantrums and tears and really exhausted children the next day.
2. Have a countdown.
Just like I’m sure your kids were counting down to when holiday break started, get them excited for school to start again. This was easier for my two extroverts than it is for my introverts. My social butterflies missed their friends enough that the countdown to seeing friends was enough to get them on board with getting back to routine.
3. Make it fun and rewarding.
The holiday break is a fun time and the idea of going back to boring school is a hard sell for a lot of kids. I know it is for a few of mine. So, we make it about something else like sports starting up, seeing a special friend, or going to a store at the end of the first week of school to pick out a back-to-school prize. Be creative. You know your kid and you’ll know what gets them the most motivated. If nothing school-related does it for them, then try home-based things like helping cook their favorite meal.
4. Keep yourself on schedule.
This is, admittedly, my worst thing. I both need order to survive and loathe the idea of keeping a “normal” schedule. I’m bad at it. A routine doesn’t come easily to me. Luckily, I have a few routine-loving kids that keep me in line. I am not motivated by pretty planners. I’ve tried that route, and while I find myself excited by them the first few days, I can’t keep to it and then I’m mad at myself for yet another thing. Do what is easiest and best for you, not what some peppy Youtuber said works best for them. For me, that is a google calendar with every stupid thing I have to do set as an alert. Beware, this may do to you what it once did to me. I became desensitized to the alerts on my phone because they were going off so often. I combated that by eliminating some things and changing the alert sounds. It isn’t a foolproof method, but it works pretty well for me.
5. Take a few days to organize your spaces and let your kids help where they can.
Unless you are great at both keeping your spaces and children in perfect order during a chaotic time, your house probably needs some attention. I say this with no judgment as I am in quarantine recovering from Covid and staring down full suitcases and piles of clutter in dismay. You need to give yourself grace (says the hypocrite beating herself up), and understand it will take some time to undo what has been done. You’ll need time to reorganize. Your kids will need time to get back into a routine. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible parent, it just means you are normal and the holidays make everything weird for almost everyone.
6. Find the lunchboxes, backpacks, computers, books, and clothes that you’ll need the first day back to school earlier than the night before.
This should be intuitive. We are in year six of this whole thing and I legitimately forget that the children will need their stuff until the night before when I’m panicking. So, learn from my mistakes. Ideally, the day your kids come home for vacation you should have them empty and clean their lunchboxes and hang up backpacks, coats, and mittens in their usual spot. Double-check that they have actually done this—mine will say they have but then the night before school starts back up again they are looking through the van trying to find their lunch box and backpack. The lunchbox will probably smell like a dead animal curled up in it.
7. Lower your expectations.
Kids who were adopted often struggle in ways that don’t make sense to us at the moment. The holidays bring up mixed emotions that they can’t even put words to yet. So, it is very likely they will struggle the first few weeks back. Almost everyone struggles emotionally after major holidays. Kids are usually less well-equipped to deal with the sudden change from “fun every day” to “back to the grind.” Even adults can find themselves out of sorts the first week or two back to routine. So, if your kid is struggling, just know that it is normal and try to be available to talk if they need it.
You’ve got this.