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How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder struggle giving holiday gifts to others for many reasons.

This struggle can cause significant stress and tension for friends and family.

Feelings get hurt.

Everyone experiences trauma. 

There are ways to make the gift giving experience more pleasant for everyone while helping the child with RAD.

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

Warning: This page contains content related to Reactive Attachment Disorder that may be triggering to some.


Important: Children with RAD are victims of abuse and/or neglect. Behaviors associated with Reactive Attachment Disorder are due to how the brain forms while the innocent child is surviving trauma. It is our goal to support healthy and loving families where children with RAD can heal, if possible.

In order to understand how to help a child with RAD give gifts, it's important that a caregiver understand why the process is such a struggle.

I want to thank my adopted daughter Princess for helping me with this post. 

She is currently in a place of healing where she is able to discuss these things freely and loves to help others who may also be struggling.

5 Reasons Why Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder Struggle with Holiday Gift Giving

1. A Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Doesn't Know a Person Well Enough to Select a Gift

A child suffering from RAD does all she can to push people away and keep them at a distance.

The process of holiday gift giving is the ultimate reminder of how much a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder chooses not to attach to caregivers and other family members.

Caregivers that expect a child with RAD to know about the interests and passions of others in the family in order to select a gift are setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Connecting with family members is scary. A child with RAD will avoid it at all costs.

It's far more comfortable and safe for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder not to get to know family members, than to become close enough to know what to give them as a gift.

When a child with RAD has no idea what to give another person in the family, or would rather choose something they like themselves, understand this is not a purposeful act of hate or dislike,

There's a good chance the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder really doesn't know how to select a gift.

The RAD brain does such a fabulous job of protecting the child from further hurt and pain. 

Be empathetic in these situations, even when they make absolutely no sense.

2. Holiday Gift Giving Brings Up Memories of Trauma and is Triggering

There is a good chance as a caregiver, you have no idea what gift giving experiences were like for a child with RAD, previous to placement and adoption.

Gift giving may bring up memories filled with trauma and can trigger PTSD episodes.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: Tips for Handling Past Trauma During the Holidays

Be understanding and forgiving if your child with Reactive Attachment Disorder feels uncomfortable giving gifts.

Over the years as healing occurs and she sees by example how things are done in your family, she may feel more comfortable.

Forcing the idea of gift giving may do more harm than good.

3. Giving Gifts is a Sign of Love Which is Absolutely Terrifying

During the holiday season people give gifts as a sign of love and affection to others they care about.

This idea is so frightening for a child with RAD.

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder may believe that if she gives love, she will only be hurt and betrayed.

It is so much easier for the RAD brain to push away before something bad happens.

4. The Act of Gift Giving Feels Like an Obligation

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder does not like to do anything that she doesn't want to do.

There are many reasons a child with RAD may not want to give gifts to others.

If this is the case, and the act of gift giving is forced, it will feel like an obligation.

When a caregiver requires a child to give gifts to others, there will be push back and behaviors.

Sometimes these behaviors are aimed at the caregiver requiring the gift giving.

Other times behaviors are aimed at those the child with RAD are required to give gifts to.

Tread lightly and only pick battles that are worth picking for the sake of everyone's sanity and safety.

5. Gifts Don't Mean Anything Due to a Lack of Trust

For a child with RAD who hasn't attached and fears love, gift giving may seem quite silly.

Why give someone something when the RAD brain has closed off all possibilities to trust and form relationships?

RAD: Trust and Parenting

RAD: Trust and Parenting

Gifts will only cause others to try to grow closer to the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

The RAD brain does not want this in any shape or form.

Then what?

There is only so much a caregiver can do to help with the process of a RAD child giving gifts to others during the holidays.

So much depends on the healing journey of the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and brain development.

RAD Treatment for Children

That's not to say nothing can be done.

There are ways to help a child with RAD give holiday gifts.

Here is what we've found has helped in our home.

4 Ways to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

1. Don't Force a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to Give Gifts to Family Members

Follow the lead of your child with RAD.

Give the option to give gifts each year.

When she's ready, she will do so. 

Until then respect that the experience is too uncomfortable and will most likely hurt others.

Healing doesn't happen over night.

It will most likely take years.

2. Purchase Gifts for Others and Let the Child with RAD Choose Which One She Wants to Give

Instead of the overwhelming experience of finding the perfect gift, a caregiver can purchase two or three gifts ahead of time and let the RAD child choose which gift she would like to give.

This lessens the pressure put on the RAD child to perform, and all parties may be much happier.

We have done this several years now and it seems to help our adopted daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder and my budget so much.

3. Help a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Choose an Experience the Whole Family Can Enjoy Together as a Gift

Experiences can be less threatening than gifts to some children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, especially if the child helps pick the experience.

Giving Family Experiences: Our New Christmas Tradition

When the child with RAD picks out the experience there is a lesser chance that she will self-sabotage when it comes time to enjoy the experience.

Just like all holiday gifts, experiences should never have to be earned through appropriate behaviors.

Select an experience that will work for everyone and most likely one that doesn't have to occur on a specific day, just in case there are struggles.

4. Make the Gift Giving Experience More About the Child with RAD Instead of Others

When my adopted daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder were really young and unable to understand money, we would have one on one Mommy and Daughter Christmas Dates.

Each child with RAD would get to pick out the restaurant we'd eat at, picking out anything she wanted to eat.

Shopping would include gifts for others which we would discuss at dinner AND shopping for anything my daughter may need.

Pairing an undesired experience with an experience that my daughters wanted worked out well for a while.

There would almost always be behaviors the next day, because spending time with just Mom was triggering, but neither daughter could take back the positive memories we had shared.

They were worth it in my book.

To the Caregiver of a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Who HAS TO Give Holiday Gifts

Every child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is different. 

There are those who hate giving gifts and then there are those who HAVE TO give gifts.

We have one of each.

Our youngest daughter feels like she HAS TO give holiday gifts.

This is something she perseverates on during the holiday season.

The sooner we purchase gifts she wants to give, the better.

Due to her past trauma and neglect, giving holiday gifts is a need.

She worries so much about what will happen if she doesn't give gifts.

Her anxiety soars.

When working with a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder like this, be just as patient and kind as you would with a child who hates giving.

Follow the child's lead.

Set rules and boundaries so gift giving doesn't get out of hand.

Over time as healing occurs, she will learn that giving isn't a NEED and things will get better.

Just be prepared for this process to take years.

There are so many challenges when raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder during the holiday season.

Pick your battles.

It may be that just by understanding the why behind the struggles of giving gifts that things improve.

Or you may need to lower expectations because your child with RAD just isn't there yet.

Educate other family members on Reactive Attachment Disorder and what your child may be experiencing this time of year.

Teach compassion and acceptance.

Things can get better over time.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the resources below.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: Tips for Handling Past Trauma During the Holidays How to Help a Child with RAD Receive Holiday Gifts 7 Reasons the Holiday Season is Difficult for Children with RAD What NOT to Do with a RAD Child How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Must Have Safety Resources When Parenting a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

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Christmas Sensory Kit Ideas for Kids and Teens

We don't know what we'd do without our Christmas sensory kits. 

Kids and teens alike benefit from them so much.

When Christmas sensory kits are filled with items that meet sensory needs, those that use them are able to stay regulated and be okay in situations they otherwise would not be.

Christmas sensory kits have literally saved our Christmases throughout the year.

Every child and teen have different sensory needs, which means no one sensory kit is going to look alike.

In this post I share contents of the sensory kits our kids and teens have used over the years.

Christmas sensory kits have been used in our home to help children and teens on the autism spectrum, with anxiety, those diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and more.

No matter what diagnosis your child or teen has, meeting sensory needs is always the best place to start!

Christmas Sensory Kit Ideas for Kids and Teens

Christmas Sensory Kit Ideas for Kids and Teens

Christmas Sensory Kit for Kids

Small Christmas LEGO Set

When Princess is unregulated, she enjoys taking things apart. At times when she is regulated, she loves building things.

We have found LEGO sets to be perfect go-to sensory resources for Princess.

As long as she has a LEGO set she can destroy and build back up, she doesn't destroy other items or areas of the home.

Princess has quite a collection of LEGO sets in her room.

When we're on the go, she can bring a small set with her in case it's needed.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Puzzle

Christmas Puzzle

Princess does best when she keeps her hands and her mind engaged. 

When she's anxious and or stressed, a 1000 piece puzzle is the perfect activity to keep her occupied.

Sunshine also loves puzzles. 

They seem to calm her brain.

When she's working on a puzzle she does so much better communicating safely.

She sticks to 100 piece puzzles like this Christmas Puzzle for Younger Kids.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Activity Book

Christmas Brain Teasers

When 1000 piece puzzles aren't available, the next best thing for Princess is a brain teaser book. 

She is extremely smart, so to keep her mind busy, we usually have to choose a book that is a little bit more difficult.

What I love most about puzzles and brain teasers is that they keep Princess' brain focused on something positive.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Fidget Spinner Ring Band

Christmas Fidget Spinner Ring Band

Sunshine is huge fan of jewelry, especially rings. 

Her favorite rings are fidget rings.

They keep her hands occupied and help with anxiety.

Princess also enjoys fidget rings.

Anything that will help Princess stay safe at Christmas time by keeping her hands busy is a win!

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Notebook with Pencils

Christmas Notebook

Whether at home or on the go, Princess always keeps a notebook and writing utensils on hand.

She loves to draw and write.

When she's overwhelmed, anxious, or struggling with Reactive Attachment Disorder a notebook is one of her go to coping strategies.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Mini Notebooks

Christmas Mini Notebooks

Sunshine loves small notebooks.

She carries them around everywhere, writing in them when she feels the need.

We can never have too many on hand as they get left all around the house, van, and out and about.

Christmas mini notebooks are extra special and extra fun.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Colored Pencils

Colored Pencils

Princess loves to carry around her colored pencils to use with her notebook. 

She prefers them over crayons and markers.

We just have to make sure we always have a pencil sharpener on hand.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Scented Pencils

Scented Pencils

Sunshine prefers pencils and pens. 

We're not a fan of giving her pens for obvious reasons, so we always try to make sure she has pencils she enjoys on hand.

Sunshine loves pleasant smells.

These pencils definitely fit the bill at Christmas time.

I love finding special items that smell good.

Smelling these pencils helps Sunshine take slow deep breaths which are always helpful.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Coloring Book

Christmas Coloring Book

When Princess doesn't feel creative enough to draw, she enjoys coloring. 

Coloring keeps her hands busy.

This nutcracker themed coloring book has been Princess' absolute favorite during the holiday season year after year.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Color by Number Coloring Book

Christmas Color by Numbers Coloring Book

Princess also enjoys coloring, but can become overwhelmed without direction.

She absolutely loves color by number pages.

They provide her with the guidance she needs when coloring.

I love to add Scented Crayons to the Christmas sensory kit to encourage breathing and meet sensory needs related to smell.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Cinnamon Sticks

Cinnamon Sticks

Meeting sensory needs related to smell is so important during the holiday season, especially when there are so many different smells everywhere you go.

The great thing about the sense of smell, is that it's an easy sense to soothe.

Scented crayons and pencils are great, but so are other items that provide natural sensory input.

It is so easy to carry around a few cinnamon sticks, when a child needs to smell something pleasant. 

Other families may enjoy using essential oils.

Princess' favorite holiday scent is Pine Essential Oil.

If I were to make a sensory kit for myself, I'd probably carry around a few of those homemade gingerbread tree ornaments.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Rudolph Stuffed Animal

Rudolph Stuffed Animal

A sensory kit for Sunshine always includes a stuffed animal of some sort.

Her Christmas sensory kit includes a plush Rudolph, as that's her favorite Christmas character.

I love that this stuffed animal is small enough to take wherever we go.

It's also very soft and cuddly.

For home, we usually go with something bigger, to help during the worst of times.

Sunshine uses stuffed animals to regulate in so many different ways.

She may hug them, bite them, throw them, and more.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Blanket

Nutcracker Blanket

Princess is not a fan of stuffed animals, but she loves soft blankets.

Blankets can be so helpful when it comes to regulation.

They provide a tactile component and can also help with heat regulation.

This is Princess' favorite Christmas blanket.

She keeps it on her bed throughout the entire holiday season to cuddle with when she needs it.

Sunshine also loves special blankets, they help her regulate more than anything else when paired with a stuffed animal.

Dinomite suffers from extreme anxiety during the holiday season.

Books help him so much.

He becomes engrossed in a story, distracted from all that he's nervous about.

Time passes quickly.

Over the years we've introduced a lot of Christmas literature, but the ones listed here are our favorites for every age.

The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett is such a beautiful story that will completely change how you view the donkey in the story of Christ's birth for forever.

The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers was a book used to help ground Princess during her younger years when Christmas itself was such a huge trigger.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Music

Christmas Music

A Christmas sensory kit isn't complete without music. It's the perfect way to meet auditory or hearing sensory needs.

ALL of our kids have had music in their Christmas sensory kits.

Princess absolutely loves Kelly Clarkson, especially her Christmas song, "Just for Now."

These albums are so soothing for them as they've enjoyed them every holiday season for years.

Sunshine's favorite Christmas album is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. She listens to it on her MP3 player year round as a coping strategy.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Sound Blocking Headphones

Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones

We pair Sunshine's MP3 player and our teenagers' phones with headphones to provide them with the ultimate sensory experience.

The headphones in the photo above are a favorite among all of the kids as they're so soft, block out all sound and are easy to wear.

There are many days during the holiday season that they wear these headphones all day with one ear covered and one ear open so they can control their auditory sensory input.

Did I mention how long a charge lasts with these headphones and how long each pair of headphones have lasted?

I can't say enough about how much these headphones help my kids.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Photo Album

Christmas Photo Album

When it comes to raising girls with Reactive Attachment Disorder and past Christmas trauma we have found that photo albums filled with positive memories from the present have helped so much. 

When Princess was little, this photo album was always close by. 

As she'd go into PTSD episodes, we would bring this album out and go through it pairing the experience with other sensory experiences that would help her come back to the present.

As Sunshine has gone through several years of residential placements, we send albums that include pictures of us together during visits so she can remember that no matter where she is or what she's experiencing, she always has her family.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Mini Mochi Squishy Toys

Christmas Mini Mochi Squishy Toys

Sunshine absolutely LOVES mini mochi squishy toys.

They are the perfect sensory fidget to stretch and pinch.

I love how they always come in in groupings, so there are plenty to use.

Sunshine enjoys playing with them when she's not pinching and pulling them.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Pop-It Fidget

Christmas Pop-It Fidget

Pop-its are one of Sunshine's favorite sensory fidgets. 

When she gets upset and she wants to tear things, the pop-its are a great alternative.

Santa Claus and Rudolph are Sunshine's favorite holiday characters. 

I always try to make sure to include her favorite things in her Christmas sensory kit so she's more apt to use them.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Sensory Toys

Stress Relief Squeeze Toys

Sunshine and Bulldozer have always loved squeeze toys, especially in characters and scents they enjoy.

Bulldozer enjoys the feel of squeeze toys when he's squeezing them in his hand. 

When Sunshine wants to hit, punch or tear, squeeze toys provide a safe alternative.

I particularly love ones that smell pleasant, as they provide yet another sensory experience that may calm Sunshine.

If Sunshine decides to smell the squeeze toys, a deep breathing experience occurs, which can help calm her down a bit.

For those wondering, Bulldozer has never torn up a squeeze toy. He literally just likes the feel of squeezing them.

Sunshine on the other hand has torn several of them.

I'm okay with this as the benefits outweigh the destruction, especially if I find a great price for several, or I purchase them from the dollar store. 

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Light Up Spinning Wand

Christmas Light Up Spinning Wand

Bulldozer and Sunshine love visual stimuli. 

When lights are involved it's even better. 

A hand held light up spinner can provide hours of joy and calm at Christmas, especially when one needs visual stimuli.

Make sure to always have extra batteries on hand, especially if you pick up a light up spinner from the store as you never know when batteries will be worn out.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Nesting Dolls

Christmas Nesting Dolls

Sunshine has always LOVED opening and closing containers and putting things in and out of containers. This is one of her autism passions. 

Nesting dolls are the perfect solution! 

Sunshine opens and closes them, puts dolls in and out of other dolls for hours. 

It is a task that helps regulate her so much!

Christmas Sensory Kit: Wooden Train Set

Christmas Train

Bulldozer has always been very passionate about vehicles. 

He enjoys vehicles but even more he loves the wheels on vehicles, especially when he watches them spin at eye level. 

Christmas time is no different than any time of year. He needs his vehicles with wheels.

I always tried to have vehicles on hand for him to use at home and one the go. 

Sometimes I'm lucky to pick up the perfect Christmas Hot Wheels car.

Other times it may be a construction vehicle decorated for Christmas.

But, one of my favorite options is a wooden toy train with wheels that spin.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Spinning Top

Christmas Spinning Tops

When Bulldozer was little he felt the need to watch things spin so often. If something wasn't spinning, he'd find something he could spin, whether it's appropriate or not.

Spinning tops are fabulous to have on hand on these occasions.

They are also fabulous for teens to use as fidgets!

That need to spin items is always there.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Wind Up Toys

Christmas Wind Up Toys

Sunshine has always loved participating intricate fine motor tasks. 

She has disassembled many doorknobs in our home as a toddler. Lol.

Wind up toys provided her a way to receive the specific sensory input she needs.

Sunshine also enjoyed watching the wind up toys move around.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Sunglasses


There are some in our home that crave visual input. There are others who are extremely sensitive to it.

Princess can't handle bright lights or even walking outside in the sunshine. 

When there's snow on the ground, her sensitivity becomes so much worse.

Needless to say, the holiday season is a bit rough, especially when we lived in upstate NY. 

Sunglasses can be the perfect Christmas Sensory Kit addition for those who are sensitive to visual input.

Sunglasses can also help those with trauma "hide" if they need to.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Hoodie

Christmas Hoodie

For children and teens who struggle regulating temperature, a hoodie is the perfect sensory item to have on hand during the holiday season, especially when on the go.

All of my kids and teens have enjoyed some form of hoodie, whether it goes over their head of is a zip up version.

They use them all the time.

Sunshine carries a hoodie with her everywhere she goes, especially when we go to the grocery store to use in areas where it gets cold.

Dinomite loves hoodies for the hood and strings. 

When he's feeling overwhelmed he puts the hood over his head and pulls it tight to lessen sensory overload. 

Sunshine also pulls the hoodie over her head for the same reason, but doesn't pull the strings tight.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Chewie Necklace

All of our kids have gone through phases where they need a chewie whether for anxiety or oral sensory input. 

We've found that chewie necklaces are the easiest to use, as they don't become lost as easy. 

Long thin chewies tend to lessen drooling and saliva everywhere.

Every kiddo has been different regarding how hard their chewie needed to be.

Sunshine still uses chewie necklaces every day when she's home.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Chocolates


Every Christmas Sensory Kit should include items that meet oral stimuli needs.

You may choose gum, potato chips,  or a healthy non perishable snack in your daily sensory kit, but knowing the holidays is extra challenging, I like to pull out the big guns and make items extra special.

Each year my kids have enjoyed Lindt chocolate truffles as a special treat during the holiday season, when dietary needs have permitted. 

These chocolate truffles are the perfect way to bring kids back to the present. 

Afterall chocolate does always make things better.

Christmas Sensory Kit: Candy Canes

Candy Canes

When I'm worried about chocolate melting, and I'm with a kiddo who loves candy canes, I may bring along mini candy canes to use as oral stimuli.

It really just depends on the kiddo and the situation we're in. 

Sometimes a container of favorite Christmas cookies does the trick!

Christmas Sensory Kit: Christmas Movies

Christmas Movies for Kids

A list of sensory kit items wouldn't be complete without movie selections a child or teen can watch on their tablets or phones when feeling over stimulated.

The day after Halloween, Sunshine begins to watch Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer EVERY DAY to keep her regulated until Christmas.

Our lives were all about Frozen for years.

Elsa, Anna, and Olaf grounded Princess during the holiday season.

I will always remember the year she could handle holiday shopping because Elsa, Anna, and Olaf were more popular than Santa.

Every store was covered in Frozen decorations and gifts.

Dinomite couldn't get enough Bob the Builder. 

Bulldozer enjoyed Curious George ,as does Sunshine.

A Christmas Movie Countdown

A Christmas Movie Countdown

Christmas movies help teens just as much as little ones.

Providing opportunities to block out all the holiday chaos with a preferred Christmas movie can make all the difference.

It's one of the reason we enjoy our Christmas movie countdown so much!

Christmas Sensory Kits really can make such a difference during the holiday season.

I find that rotating regular sensory kit items with holiday themed ones (so long as they are preferred items), can really help when stronger and bigger emotions and behaviors during the holiday season.

Bringing out the holiday sensory items with the Christmas decorations year after year can be a fabulous tradition that helps children know that they can be safe and okay when the holiday season arises because they have what they need to be okay.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the resources below.

Free Christmas Shopping Planner for Kids Christmas Visual Schedule for Kids Preparing Children for Their First Fine Arts Experience Reactive Attachment Disorder: Tips for Handling Past Trauma During the Holidays How to Help a Child with RAD Receive Holiday Gifts 7 Reasons the Holiday Season is Difficult for Children with RAD

Christmas Sensory Kit Ideas for Kids and Teens

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