Christmas can be a tough time for children who have experienced trauma. How can we help them to enjoy the festive period?

child trauma christmas

Betsy de Thierry, author of The Simple Guide to Sensitive Boys and The Simple Guide to Child Trauma, explains how Christmas isn’t necessarily a happy time for all children, especially those who have experienced trauma.

Television adverts and social media are full of happy families at this time of year. Tables are laden with delicious food, presents can be found under trees and all around everyone is smiling. Beneath this image, however, there are many children who, for various emotional reasons and past traumatic experiences, can find the contrived festive spirit overwhelming.

For those who care for a child who fits this description, I thought I’d highlight a few challenges and potential triggers to be aware of during Christmas.

  1. Adult expectations that all emotions will be positive

As parents and carers we do love it when our photos make us look like a happy family.  We enjoy dressing up our kids in Christmas jumpers and taking photos that make us look way more perfect, peaceful, harmonious and happy than perhaps the reality is.

Children who have experienced trauma can pick up on a parent’s anxiety for everything to go ‘perfectly’. They are often hyper-vigilant which means that they notice the small detail of your facial expressions, others emotions, smells, sights and sounds – such as a raised eyebrow – because their subconscious has been trained to notice such things in order to survive unpredictable frightening scenarios. Whilst it has been a survival strategy to pre warn them about anything frightening about to happen, it also means that they can see clearly in your eyes the look of hope, fear and uncertainty as you speak about the plans for Christmas celebrations. They want to please you so they may try and be all that you want them to be- but the cost to them can be high. If they feel that your need for perfection and a ‘happy Christmas’ is important for their ‘survival’ then they may deny their own struggles to focus on your needs, which could lead to a volcanic eruption of negative emotions at some point as they will be struggling to hold all their strong emotions internally for too long.

As a tip, it can be helpful to laugh together at the media’s image of Christmas and talk about how many feelings all the adults and children can have at Christmas. It’s always helpful to tell stories of when you were a child and received a weird or unexpected present and how you navigated the expectations and feelings you felt. Laughter at expectations is important and can dilute the pressure that can be felt.

2.  Overwhelming feelings of happiness, loss, sadness, excitement all at the same time

For almost every child, Christmas is a time of experiencing lots of different emotions. Most children will feel excited and hopeful and then on the day of presents will feel happy alongside short, sharp moments of awkwardness, disappointment and sadness that a few presents were not received or weren’t quite right.

For children who are struggling from trauma, these emotions will be significantly stronger but can also be coupled with a strong feeling of loss. Loss seems to be a strong emotion at Christmas; in an environment where things ‘should be perfect’, the loss of a family member, their birth family, a life experience, or a loss of innocence can be felt powerfully, although sometimes on an implicit subconscious level. The strong feelings of loss, which can be felt as sadness and anger, can be overwhelming in the context of ‘happy people’. Somehow the contrast can feel explosive. To add to the cocktail of strong emotions is the most potent of all feelings, which is guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is often carried at the core of traumatised children as they feel the weight of self-blame for what they have experienced, despite the obvious fact for us that they never caused or deserved anything that happened to them. Shame is the sense that they are bad, dirty, worthless people at the core of who they are. Christmas can feel so overwhelming that their shame levels can rise because they feel that they will probably be ‘the one to ruin everything’ and make everyone unhappy. This can create anxiety or terror, which can lead to some children emotionally exploding before Christmas events have even begun.

3. Relatives commenting on how they look, small talk and expected hugs

Children who have been through trauma can sometimes feel confused about adult requests (‘oh give your granny a hug’) and ‘small talk ‘conversations (what a lovely, happy chap you are!”). When there are unfamiliar relatives who hold expectations such as hugs, it can feel like being traumatised. Trauma can be defined as experiencing powerlessness and terror at the same time. A child could feel powerless (inability to say no) and terror (strong fear) when adults ask them to hug, tickle them or tease them. We need to be able to explain to children that they can say ‘no thank you’ and be confident in ‘being shy’ because that is a normal response to such demands. It’s also helpful if we can chat to relatives and other adults who may visit and explain that, for safeguarding reasons, we are teaching our children that they can take the lead on their own body and say ‘no’ when they want to.  We can also explain that sometimes children may not engage in small talk because they are learning how to be authentic in their conversations and so may not say ‘the right thing’.  It can also be important to point out that children certainly don’t like being teased or commented on because they are children with real emotions and sensitivities.

4. Needing to pretend they like the presents they are given

This is fairly obvious but can be a huge pressure for children to navigate. They see the look of hope on the present giver and don’t want to disappoint whilst also feeling a sense of disappointment themselves. Let’s be kind to children who are honest and have emotions that are authentic and enable them to process negative feelings in a way that ends well and gives them a life time of skill.

5. A strange fat man (Father Christmas) is coming into my bedroom while I am sleeping

As an adult I would not be keen to think that an old man is coming to my bedroom at night while I am sleeping. It doesn’t make me feel safe. I have no idea why we think children would be ok with this! If your child doesn’t sleep around the Christmas season, it could be due to fear about this experience. They may feel too much shame to tell you as others seem so excited about it, but actually the feelings of anxiety can rise leading up to this ‘special night’. For those who have been sexually abused, by a man at night coming into their bedroom, it would seem obvious that they may not be feeling that relaxed. Popping the fantasy bubble about Father Christmas can be the kindest thing you can do to some children!

If you would like to read more articles like Betsy’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption, Fostering and Social Care books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

health

Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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Sally Donovan reflects upon her journey as an adoptive parent and discusses adoption’s place in the future

adoption futureSally Donovan, bestselling author of No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting, recounts how her journey as an adoptive parent has changed and shaped her as an individual, and discusses adoption’s place in the future. Her article is taken from 30 Years of Social Change which gathers together over 30 leading thinkers from diverse disciplines to reflect upon how their fields of expertise have evolved during those years.

Thirty years ago, as Jessica Kingsley Publishers was being formed, I was 18 and about to embark on my first experience of parenting. After finishing sixth form college I took the Eurolines coach to Paris and started work as an au-pair for an Anglo-French couple. He was a floppy-haired British banker who had something of a blonde Hugh Grant about him and she was a beautiful Parisian who spoke English like Princess Diana. I lived with them in their rented house just off Place Charles de Gaulle and cared for their 1 year-old son Pascal. It was kind of normal back then to go to a foreign country, move in with people you knew virtually nothing about and, with no experience, look after their precious child. Continue reading

I don’t like reading!

dyslexiaLisabeth Emlyn Clark talks about her experience of growing up with dyslexia and how she wishes she’d received the correct support at a younger age to help her manage it.  Her personal story has inspired her to write a children’s book about a boy named Harry with dyslexia called I Don’t Like Reading.

As a child I loved looking at books and enjoyed having them read to me. Often with my favourite stories I would stare at the pages for an age, looking at every part of the picture so I could memorize the details while I listened to the words being spoken. When the pages were turned I would look at the picture and hear the first few words, and could finish the sentence before the reader did.

I remember being around 6 or 7 years old when I started to realise that my friends and class mates seemed to finish reading their books so much faster than I did. They all seemed to be on the harder stage books than me and some even on the ‘pupil choice’ stage. I left primary school having never been able to choose my own reading book!

It’s not that I couldn’t read then, or can’t read now; my issue has always been that I try so hard to read the text that it becomes harder to remember what I have just read and this makes books difficult to understand. Continue reading

Recommended reading for new and prospective foster carers

recommended reading foster carersAn extract from Welcome to Fostering, for foster agencies considering books for their recommended reading lists for new and prospective foster carers.

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If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, or have recently become one, this book is the one companion you’ll need to understand the experience of fostering. Edited by Andy Elvin, CEO of the UK’s largest adoption and fostering charity TACT, and Martin Barrow, former news editor at The Times and a veteran foster carer himself, the book demystifies the process of fostering by combining invaluable advice from long-term foster carers, the expertise of the professionals who support them, and priceless experiences of foster children themselves; it answers all the questions you’ve had about how to become a foster carer, what the challenges and highlights are, and what it takes to thrive as one.
If you would like to read more articles like this and hear the latest news and offers on our Fostering books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Adoption, Fostering and Parenting Facebook page.

Read an exclusive extract from “Straight Expectations: The Story of a Family in Transition”

 

Read an exclusive extract from Straight Expectations

Chapter 13: The Transition (2004—2006)

“I did my own research to get clear about what we were dealing with. I wanted to understand the process of transitioning. I realized we needed professional help. There weren’t a lot of resources at that time. The only one who seemed perfectly clear was Julia herself. She was completely confident. She knew who she was now and insisted we had to figure out what to do so she could be the person she knew she was inside. It wasn’t about sexual preference. She was transgender and wanted her brain to be congruent with her body.”

Click here to read the full extract

 

Ever since they were young, Peggy Cryden noticed her children’s gender expression did not correspond with society’s expectations of their biological gender. In this moving and honest memoir, Peggy details the experiences and challenges of raising both a gay son and a gay, transgender son and shares her family’s journey of adversity and growth, which has helped inform her work as a psychotherapist.

Beginning with her own unconventional upbringing and personal relationships, the second half of the book follows her children from birth to adulthood and through their numerous experiences including coming out, depression, hate crime, relationships, school and various aspects to do with transitioning (legal, physical, medical, social) as well as their appearances in the media as a family. This book is insightful, charming and thought-provoking, and through levity and humor, offers a positive approach to parenting outside of convention.

 

To learn more about Straight Expectations or to purchase a copy, click here. You can also view the full range of JKP’s gender diversity books here, join our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook.

What is it like from a birth parent’s perspective to have your children living in foster care?

Foster care birth parentsIn this extract from Welcome to Fostering, Annie describes what it is like from a birth parent’s perspective to have your children living with foster carers, and provides some useful advice for foster carers on how to manage a good relationship with birth parents. She is the writer of her own blog, Surviving Safeguarding, which tells the story of her ongoing journey to win her children back into her custody. She believes that ‘Fostering is truly a wonderful thing’.

Click here to download the extract

If you would like to read more articles like Annie’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Fostering and Adoption books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Adoption, Fostering and Parenting Facebook page.

How to compile a life story book for an adopted or fostered child

life story booksJoy Rees, author of Life Story Books for Adopted and Fostered Children, gives her advice on how best to compile a life story book for an adopted or fostered child.  Working chronologically backwards rather than forwards, she explains how such a format reinforces the child’s sense of security and promotes attachment.

A Life Story Book tells the story of the child’s life and is often described as an ‘essential tool’ to help the child gain a sense of identity and an understanding of his or her history. This was the emphasis when I wrote the first edition of this book, Life Story Books for Adopted Children, – A Family Friendly Approach, some 10 years ago.

This approach evolved from my work with adoptive families, and from a growing awareness that most of the books I read at that time were simply not ‘fit for purpose’. The language used and the details given about the birth parents’ history was generally not appropriate or helpful. The books were just not child friendly. At best many of them were complex and confusing and it was difficult to follow the child’s story in them. At worse, some books inadvertently fed into the child’s sense of self-blame and shame about their early experiences. Others risked adversely affecting placement stability by impeding the vital claiming and belonging stages of the attachment process. Continue reading

Bo Hejlskov Elven on applying the low arousal approach to parenting for his new book Sulky, Rowdy Rude?

Bo Hejlskov Elven is a parent and one of Europe’s leading clinical psychologists specialising in challenging behaviour. In this new blog for JKP he offers insights into how the low arousal approach informs his new book (written in collaboration with Tina Wiman) on parental strategies for managing the most challenging behaviour of any child, Sulky, Rowdy, Rude?: Why kids really act out and what to do about it.

 

The psychologist Douglas MacGregor proposed a theory of motivation in the sixties. He argued that we can view humans in two different ways: Either we think that people are lazy and need to be controlled and motivated by rewards and punishment, or we think that people do their best if we create the right environment for them to develop autonomy. His theory was on management, and he and later psychologists have shown that the second view increases productivity. In our book Sulky, Rowdy, Rude? we adapt that way of thinking to parenting. This is in no way controversial in Scandinavia, where we live, but may be a less common view in other parts of the world. Continue reading

What is attachment and attachment disorder?

Attachment disorderClinical psychologist Colby Pearce provides a concise and easy to understand introduction to what ‘attachment’ means, how to recognise attachment disorders and how to help children who have an attachment disorder. This extract is taken from his new book A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, Second Edition which offers a comprehensive set of tried-and-tested practical strategies that can be used in the home, school and consulting room with children affected by an attachment disorder. Colby is also the author of A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children.

Download the extract

If you would like to read more articles like Colby’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption and Fostering books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.