by Ashley Bennett, Director of Trauma-Informed Care
Do you have a child who sabotages big days? Or at least maybe it feels that way sometimes?
There are many reasons why this might be. We’ve talked about a few of them so far: feelings of grief and loss, sensory overload, new experiences, or the lack of structure and change in routine often found around the holidays. For some of our children, they’re going to attempt to assert control in these moments, because that feels safer. Recognize that the child who came to you through foster care has control issues for a very good reason. Being in control helped them survive. It’s likely your child learned early on that adults might not always be able to be trusted and that relying on themselves was the best choice. This desire for control can pop up in numerous ways throughout the course of our child’s day but often times it feels like an assault against us.
Why does everything always have to feel like a battle?
We can feel this frustration even more so during times of celebration-when happy family moments can be derailed by a child whose lack of cooperation, big feelings, or need for control takes over. It’s no fun for anyone, including the child causing it.
So let’s look at it another way this year. That child who tries to steal control from you-what about freely giving him some? If you invited him into some holiday decisions, asked him to contribute some ideas, made a plan—if you gave him opportunities to practice safe control, would he be so likely to steal it the wrong way?
What are some creative ways that you can give your child shared control this holiday season?
- Asking him what’s important for him to experience during the holidays and try to make that happen
- Decorating the house for the holidays together and asking him his opinion on where things go
Letting him choose a Christmas movie for the family to watch and setting up snacks for the family to enjoy
- Letting him choose the wrapping paper his gifts are wrapped in or helping wrap the gifts of his siblings
- Letting him choose a gift to give a family member
- Letting him meal plan a special dinner and cook alongside you
- Letting him help you set the “schedule” for Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or another fun family evening—this also helps the child with his need for structure and to know what’s going to happen.
- Letting him plan and set up an activity-like cookie baking, gingerbread house making, game night, etc.
Giving your child responsibilities and some power can go a long way in curbing his need to exert his control in other ways that aren’t as much fun for everyone.
Then throughout the course of a day, look for other ways you can share power with him. The best way to do this is through giving choices. Choices are not open-ended questions, such as, “What do you want for dinner?” They involve you making two choices, both of which you are comfortable with, and presenting them to your child for him to choose. “Do you want to have tacos or spaghetti for dinner tonight?” You are in full control of the options but you invite your child into the decision making process, thus sharing control with them in safe and appropriate ways. If you haven’t yet, check out our resource on choices and compromises, based on the principles of TBRI®, which goes further into understanding how to best use choices with our children. (https://therestorenetwork.org/choices-compromises/
Consider how you might practice giving choices to your children throughout the holiday season and you might be surprised at how these simple things can strengthen your relationship and lead your child to grow trust in your authority as a good boss.
Next week’s tip: Practice outside the moment.