Easy Does It!

During the holidays, spending time with — and then saying goodbye — to new relatives may be hard for adopted children. Here's what you can do to make holiday separations easier.

An adopted child dealing with holiday separations

The holidays can provide wonderful opportunities to connect with far-flung relatives and friends. But for preschoolers, who are sensitive to transitions and separations, the holidays can be stressful. Three- to five-year-olds, for instance, may find it hard to stay in an unfamiliar home or hotel, share their house (and parents) with virtual strangers, have their normal routines disrupted, or say good-bye at the end of a visit. For some adopted children, separations from loved ones may reawaken old feelings of loss and abandonment.

Shall We Play?

But fortunately, preschoolers are moving into a new phase of development, where they begin to understand that people can remain in their hearts and minds, even when they’re not physically close. Using this newfound knowledge, parents can engage their preschooler in simple games and activities that will make holiday separations and transitions easier.

For instance, you can:

  • Create paper chains. Before a friend or relative is due to visit, make a chain of purple links, representing the number of days until his arrival. Remove one link a day until you get to the target day. Next, make a chain of red links, indicating the number of days he’ll stay. Remove one link each day, until your visitor leaves. You and your child can write a special message to the person on each of the links.
  • Compose songs of connection. Put your child’s name into a hello or good-bye song. Make up an original song, or set your own words to an existing tune, such as “You Are My Sunshine.” Have friends or relatives sing this song to your child when they (or you) are leaving. Or substitute a family member’s name for your child’s, and have your preschooler sing that song to her.
  • Play hide-and-seek (with a twist). Have a visiting relative hold one end of a long piece of yarn, while your child holds the other. As one person winds his way around the house, the other follows the yarn to find him. By playing this game, your child learns that people can stay connected, even when they’re apart.
  • Send mental messages. If you’re away from home for the holidays and your child misses his bed (and familiar bedtime routines), have him send a brain message to his bed and stuffed animals, telling them when he’ll return. Or if your preschooler is sad after a special relative has left, have him send a mental love message — from his heart to hers — at bedtime. For extra fun, ask Aunt Barbara to call your child to say that she received his message, loud and clear. Have her talk about the good times they shared, and all the good times yet to come.

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