Plan Ahead for These Holidays that Can Trigger Trauma Responses

We often don’t give a second thought to celebrations of Mother’s and Father’s Day. Bouquets of flowers and brunch for mom or a nice tie and a barbeque with dad are commonplace. It’s also common for schools to have children create art for their parents in celebration of these days to give as a gift to their mom or dad. But not everyone is a fan of these family holidays. In fact, these days can stir up some uncomfortable emotions and feelings for those who have experienced family conflict, childhood trauma, or the loss of a parent. 

So, should we be celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day with children who have had an adverse experience relating to a parent? 

How to Handle Mother’s and Father’s Day

There is no easy yes or no answer to the above question. These days of celebration can bring up thoughts of the birth mom or dad that was involved in the traumatic experience that can be incredibly difficult to deal with.

It’s important to understand that each child with adverse experiences is different in how they handle situations that can trigger their trauma. Remember, you know your child best in how they handle their trauma on seemingly mundane days. However, it’s important to make plans ahead of time and to advocate for your child in school if you know there will be art projects.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead allows you to better handle triggering events because you have a hold on the situation before external triggers factor in, so planning for these types of holidays and other triggering events should take place a few weeks before the holiday. If possible, you should involve your child in the planning process. This will give you some time to talk about the day and how difficult it is, helping address issues before they start. 

Some children may find it helpful to have a countdown to the big day, to help ease anxieties and lessen triggers. However, for other children, this could make it worse. Remember, not every idea here will work for every child with trauma. 

Reinforce Safety

Throughout this entire process, reinforce your positive, safe relationship (PSR) with your child. PSR is all about putting an emphasis on healing and not behavior. Simply put, children with trauma want to know if you love them, can they trust you, and can you help them. By fulfilling these three specific needs, you can not only help them work through their trauma and heal over time, but you will be there for them when they need you on these extra difficult days!

Don’t Make Elaborate Plans

Elaborate celebrations and plans can only trigger your child’s trauma response, so whatever you plan on doing should be simple. Depending on your child, some of these ideas might be appropriate; remember this is not one-size-fits-all:

  • If your child has a sincere desire to learn more about a birth parent and you don’t think that this will trigger unsafe behaviors, talk about their birth parents with them. This could be an opportunity to help them work through some of their traumatic experiences.
  • If they can’t handle the past, put the past aside and focus on the present and help them reflect on happier, recent memories with you. 
  • Flip the script and celebrate your child instead by giving them a gift; after all, you are a parent because of your child!
  • If needed, advocate for your child in a school setting to be able to skip celebrations. Or encourage schools to instead celebrate “parent day” or “family day” that stresses flexibility in who is considered a parent or family. 

Key Takeaways

Mother’s and Father’s Day can be triggering holidays for children with trauma. Focusing on healing, rather than these celebratory holidays, will have a bigger positive impact on your child with trauma! Remember, your focus should always be on what is best for your child and helping guide them through their healing journey, whether that includes celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day or not.