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Why I'm Asking You Not to Give Too Many Presents to My Kids

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Dear friends, family and well-wishers from our community,

I know, I know. You want to shower my kids with gifts every chance you get, and the holidays provide the perfect chance to spoil the heck out of them.

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I know you want to send them mountains of presents, but I’m asking you to limit yourself to one or two gifts for each child.

I ask you this because I made the same mistake after we were granted custody of my youngest children.

My youngest and middle children are my step-children, and my husband and I got custody of them in 2013. Before they came to live with us, they experienced several traumatic events and some neglectful conditions. They were diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) shortly after they moved in.

The early-childhood trauma my youngest kids endured actually changed the way their brains develop, so they respond to things differently than most children. The first Christmas we had with them, their dad and I went way overboard with the gifts and Christmas cheer. We gave them dozens of presents, trying to make up for all the less-than-awesome Christmases they experienced when they were younger. But, instead of being excited about all the gifts, my step-kids seemed exhausted by them; they seemed more and more upset with every wrapper they discarded. By the end of the day, my middle kiddo was trying to give her gifts away. She even went so far as to wrap some up on a blanket and try to return them to me.

When I explained they were hers and asked if she liked them, she told me she loved them, but did not want them. “Why not?” I asked, confused.

“I don’t know. I just don’t want them.”

And those gifts sat in a corner of her room, wrapped in a blanket, for over a week.

The same kind of thing happens with our youngest, only often he becomes aggressive and destructive during and immediately after his birthday parties or holiday parties. He has completely shattered some of his “most favorite” gifts beyond repair within an hour of receiving them! And not in the “typical” way of playing too hard and too rough with a toy, but rather by smashing them into the wall, stomping on them or throwing them at his sisters as hard as he can. This is the kind of behavior you expect from a 2-year-old boy, not a boy nearing 6 years of age.

I didn’t understand this at the time, but since they’ve been diagnosed I’ve learned how a brain affected by RAD works. I know now my step-kids never learned to differentiate between the emotions of fear and excitement. And the best way to ensure our holiday celebrations don’t devolve into a massive puddle of tears, bloody noses, trying to sneak new toys into the trash or trying to give them away at school is to limit the amount of “holiday cheer” we expose them to.

We put our decorations out very slowly, one or two per day, beginning December 1, and we wait to put up our tree.  We definitely don’t put the presents under the tree. We try to skip commercials with holiday messages, and we don’t go shopping with the kids. We don’t discuss the naughty and nice list and we certainly don’t go see Santa at the mall. These things, while fun and stimulating for typically developing kids, only amplify our kids’ anxiety levels and send them spiraling down into a cycle of negative behaviors associated with RAD. And there are probably fewer things worse than a Christmas season dominated by RAD behaviors.

So, friends and family, as much as I love the idea of showering the kids with gifts (and I really, really do!), I have to ask you to restrain yourselves and send only or two gifts, if you choose to send anything at all.

The best thing you can give to our family this year is your love and kind words, and, of course, respect for our parenting choices.


Follow This Journey on Trauma Mama Drama

Originally published: December 10, 2015
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