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Be Trauma-Informed this Holiday Season

Holidays can be challenging for those who have experienced relational trauma.  Relational trauma is defined as a trauma that occurs in a close relationship, usually a caregiver, not caused by a single event but rather by an ongoing series of events.  Being harmed by those who were supposed to protect you leave emotional scars that can manifest in various ways. Often, holidays were moments when conflicting messages were sent to children:  happy moments followed or preceded by scary, lonely, violent ones.  Christmas can be painful and confusing.  Usually, this time of the year is celebrated, enjoyed, and related to good memories for most.  However, developmental trauma may impact a child’s ability to enjoy such moments.  Sometimes, trauma survivors can feel embarrassed and have longing feelings or be ambivalent towards their adoptive and biological parents.  The kids might have mixed feelings: they miss the celebrations from the country of origin; they recall the festivities with their birth families but also the scary memories.  Celebrations can trigger trauma-based behaviors that might not be expected, especially if time has passed since the adoption.  The fight, flight, or freeze responses may come back.

Holidays can be a minefield.  Giving the kids a voice and allowing them to speak about their painful memories is an excellent option to help them deal with their feelings.  Allowing them to speak helps them learn they are valuable, that someone is listening now, and they know how to rely on their attachment figures.  It also teaches them coping strategies that lead them to co-regulation and self-regulation.  You can make a plan when you learn what triggers your fight, flight, or freeze response and brings back the trauma-based behaviors.  Sometimes, Holidays don’t trigger traumatic memories or behaviors.  However, the feelings related to the loss of a family might still be somewhere out there, and the child may wonder how they are doing.  Ambiguous loss feelings appear.  And the lack of closure that this type of loss has does not allow the children to leave behind the past experiences but to revisit them from a new and more complex perspective as they grow in understanding.  And holidays are especially hard for those dealing with ambiguous loss.  Adopted children’s biological family is not physically present, but their emotional absence comes into their lives from time to time.  And Holidays are one of those moments where they may wonder how they are doing, if they are thinking of him/her, if their siblings are doing fine, if the grandparents are still alive, etc.

And even though some behaviors related to developmental/relational trauma may seem the same as ambiguous loss, they are not.  As Dr. Boss says, “Ambiguous loss inevitably leads to ambivalent feelings, emotions, and behaviors toward the missing person and others in the family.  With a deficit of information about the whereabouts or status of the absent person, people don’t know how to respond and feel torn about the course of action to take”.  All these can lead to anxiety, somatic symptoms, guilt, anger, or picking a fight.  Try to normalize ambivalence, allow your children to talk about those feelings, and acknowledge their existence.  Adapting to the ambiguity of the situation can minimize the effects of ambivalence.  When recognizing such ambivalent feelings, resilience may start.

Helpful hints

  • Try not to overwhelm the children with many visits or too many presents. 
  • Allow your child to feel sad or emotionally vulnerable.
  • Have some traditions from their country of origin.  Ask your child about what he enjoyed when celebrating Christmas / holidays and make them part of your family celebration.
  • Allow your children to get enough sleep.  It is essential to diminish the fight, flight, or freeze response, so your child needs to be well-rested, well-fed, and hydrated. 
  • Try to find emotional outlets.  For example, do some physical activity and draw about how he/she feels.
  • Be fully present and become a better listener to your child’s stories (and pain).   This way, your child will learn that ambivalence is normal and that he/she can rely on you and have a voice to express feelings.
  • Talk to your child about ambivalent loss.  Let them know that this emotion and reaction is very real, and they should not feel ashamed if they are experiencing these feelings.

Ultimately, the holidays can be a joyous time surrounded by family and loved ones, but for our children with histories of trauma and loss, the holidays can also be triggering, scary, and even lonely.  Continue to be the safest space for your child, and put their needs above any unnecessary holiday obligations like that gift exchange at Aunt Betty’s or the overwhelming potluck brunch at cousin Eddy’s.  Be present, be in tuned to your child’s triggers and comfort level, and be intentional about your holiday plans.

Why Host?

You’ve heard some of their stories.  You’ve read our pleas asking you to step out of your comfort zone and fill in the gap for these kids.  These kids who have waited for years and years for their chance at a forever.  These kids who are so much more than words in a file.  But the excuses are so easy to hang on to.  ‘We are too busy.’  ‘We’d have to rearrange our bedrooms.’ ‘The kids might get too attached.’  The list goes on and on with the ‘why we can’t’s.’  And we get it.  We really do!  But as that list continues to grow, we ask you to just pause for a moment, and ask yourselves, Why Not?  Even take it a step further, and don’t just ask, but really consider, ‘What if we did host?’  ‘How would we be impacted?’ ‘What would it mean for us and the hosted child?’  ‘What would those 20-25 days look like?’  None of us know the answers to those questions.  But some possibilities are that you could offer a life changing three weeks to a deserving child; you could learn about a new culture, and share your own; you could become the answer to a waiting child’s prayer; you could be forever changed, and change the life of a child; or maybe, just maybe, you could fall in love.  Now, wouldn’t all that be worth it?  Think about it.

We are excited to welcome several precious children ranging in age from 12-15 from Colombia in Summer 2023 for hosting. But, we cannot welcome them unless 10-15 special families in NJ, PA, UT, or IL step forward and say Yes. Could that be you?

If you are interested in learning more about hosting, please visit our website, or email

Hosting {A Family’s Perspective}

When did you participate in MAA’s hosting program?

We participated in MAA’s hosting program in summer of 2016 (China) and summer of 2019 (Colombia).

How old was the child(ren) you hosted?

AiJun was 9 when we hosted him, Addie was 13, Melany was 11, and Phillip was 9 when we hosted them.

What types of things did you do with your host child(ren) during the hosting session?

With AiJun we mostly stayed home and/or just did what we would normally do. AiJun was quiet and just went with the flow. Our son joined the military while AiJun was with us so we went down to St Louis to see him get sworn in. We went to the city museum in St Louis with AiJun- he loved it! We also hosted a family reunion while he was with us and went to a museum. AiJun loved swimming in our pond and going on boat rides in the river. We also took him to Chinese restaurants. Our Colombian kids were much more verbal and active. We went to a Mexican restaurant several times and also found a Spanish speaker (teacher at the school) to meet with us a couple times to make communication easier. We used google translate on my phone, but having a translator was super nice as sometimes google translate didn’t translate accurately. I was working during that time, so friends had background checks done so they could watch the kids while I worked. Our pastor and his wife took them to the zoo, another friend took them to a hands on kids museum, another friend had the kids over to swim in  her pool. We played games that did not require language or required very little language – charades, uno, Dutch Blitz, etc.The Colombian kids had a shorter hosting stay – 2.5 weeks – so we didn’t have as long as we did with AiJun’s host visit. One weekend was spent in Champaign at the MAA picnic that all the host kids were required to attend, the other weekend was spent at our local county fair. While in Champaign we went to a water park. The kids really liked everything they got to do!

What was the best part of hosting?

The best part about hosting was to get to know the kids and learn about their culture. It was fun learning about the food they eat and the holidays they celebrate. The Colombians were especially eager to share with us their experiences. 

What was the most challenging part of the experience?

The most challenging part for me was trying to make the visit fun while staying on top of laundry and house cleaning haha! One day I did ask them to help, which they did, but you feel like they are guests and you want to show them a fun time. However, two and a half weeks is a long time to only have fun!

How did the experience impact your entire family (other children in home)?

The hosting experience impacted our other children in good ways, even if they did not know it then. They learned to look to the needs of others for a few weeks and share our attention. 

What advice would you give to a potential host family?

I would advise another host family to make an itinerary before they come. Find a translator near you. Don’t be afraid to ask the kids to help with chores. Ask about their culture and be interested in what they tell you – don’t just be eager to share American traditions. Learn about and be prepared to make food from their country while they are here -they will love it! Also- if you have kids at home, let them know that things are going to be crazy and your attention will be split between them and the host child/children. Ask your children to help you by asking the host child/children good questions about their country and making them feel at home. You are hostesses as a family, it is a group effort! 

Would you do it again?  Why or why not?

Yes we would do it again. However, we have zero space to put a host child because we have adopted the four kids! We have two bio kids still at home so we have six kids at home. We do not have enough bedrooms for any more people unfortunately, even for a host visit. I try very hard to promote it in my church every summer that there is hosting! Hosting has blessed our life. It is such a wonderful experience to be able to advocate for a child in need or meet the child that you are considering adopting. Like I said, adoption has captivated our hearts and made us better people!

We are currently seeking host families in Utah, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to host a waiting child in July 2023. To learn more about the program, please visit our website or email

Why Host? {A family’s perspective}

We have participated in hosting with Madison since 2018, first as a helper family, advocating for the children and the program, and then in 2019 we welcomed our first host child home. We have hosted each year since then, each a very special child and a phenomenal experience for our family and life changing for all involved! We have always chosen to host children from Colombia because we are very familiar with the country, the culture, and the children, as each of our 2 daughters were adopted from this beautiful country. Our story is a bit different because our hearts are called to host children with high special needs, major medical needs, due to our first daughter’s hosting and eventual adoption story. She was brought to the US as part of an orphan hosting program, as a high special needs child with an unknown life prognosis. God brought us to her on her final day of the hosting trip and immediately confirmed that she was our daughter, and 9 months later, she was placed in our arms forever! Since that blessing, we have been committed to becoming host parents to advocate for other children with special needs; providing them the same chance that our daughter’s host family gave her!

During hosting we enjoy lots of general playtime at home, just enjoying family life with our children, in a loving, busy home; simple activities and daily home life that most orphans have not experienced. Children thrive on routine and structure so we strive to keep that while they are here, but do take some fun outings, like the zoo or parks. If needed we may attend a visit to the dentist, eye doctor, or pediatrician to gain some basic knowledge of his/her health-our doctors have always donated their service for our host children.

The best part of hosting is getting to know this beautiful child beyond the paperwork file! Watching them light up at the sight of fun toys and experiences like swimming, trying new foods, and coming to cuddle up with people who were just strangers days ago. Their resiliency in this experience and true joy in this opportunity is such a blessing!

The worst part is getting so little time with these sweet children, it seems like you just get to see them fully comfortable enough to open up in those couple weeks, and then it’s time to put them back on an airplane. 

Our entire family, including our 3 children plus our extended family-grandparents and even great grandma, are actively involved in this experience and truly, we all look forward to it every summer. It’s the best part of our summers! We consider it a great blessing to be called to adopt and to host orphaned children. Welcoming more children into our home, as short-term as it may be, allows us to play a role in their journey to finding their family, bringing them home. While growing our hearts and our faith, teaching compassion and understanding and love for all of our differences.

This experience is our calling, your opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, as is His will. Your family will forever be deeply changed by this opportunity, and we pray there will also be one less orphan in the world because of it. We absolutely will continue to host with a focus on special needs advocacy, and our hearts are always open to adoption. We are grateful to Madison for this wonderful program, so professionally organized, but compassionately planned and family focused. 

We are currently seeking host families in Utah, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to host a waiting child in July 2023. To learn more about the program, please visit our website or email