It can be challenging to Christmas shop for kids who are living in residential treatment facilities (PRTFs, RTFs, or group homes). There are almost always restrictive rules about personal items along with special rules for Christmas gifts. For example, in most facilities electronics, candy, and hardback books are not allowed.
So what can you give your child for Christmas? Below is a list curated from parents who have successfully navigated the holiday season while their child is living in an RTF.
But first, here are some tips.
- Gifts deemed inappropriate or against policy will likely be thrown away and not returned to you.
- Most facilities do not allow wrapped gifts because they need to approve the items.
- Often gifts must be dropped off on a specific day.
- You may not be allowed to open Christmas gifts with your child. If this is important to you, ask their therapist about doing so during a family therapy session or home visit.
- Kids in higher level facilities aren’t allowed to have “dangerous” item which may include shoe laces, belts, hard back books, calendars with staples, etc.
- Ask the facility if your child will be getting additional gifts from local charities or the facility. As you shop, it can be helpful to know if you are supplementing gifts or supplying all your child’s gifts.
- Plan for the gifts you buy to be lost or destroyed. Shop at Walmart and don’t give expensive gifts. Label what you can with your child’s name.
- To successfully navigate Christmas gift giving with the least amount of frustration and waste, email your child’s therapist your planned gift list ahead of time for approval.
Christmas Gift List
(For kids in RTF)
- Stuffed animal
- Markers and coloring books
- Dot to Dot books
- Playing cards
- Family Pictures
- Art Supplies
- Basket ball
- Soccer ball
- Foot ball
- Hygiene supplies
- Hair bands
- Pillow case
- Picture book of “happy” memories
- Paperback books
- Teddy bear
- Funky Socks
- Magic 8 Ball
- Comic books
- MP3 Player/iPod Shuffle with no internet access
- Crazy Aaron’s thinking Putty
- Blanket – burrito etc
- Calendar (no staples)
Please let me know your additional ideas so I can add to this list!
A few thoughts about realistic expectations…
Kids with developmental trauma, especially those diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) are likely to turn any situation into a power struggle, including their Christmas gifts.
Even if you give them a gift they’ve been asking for – that you know they’ll love – you can expect them to:
- Tell the therapist they know you aren’t planning to give them any gifts because you don’t love them.
- Complain to staff about the gifts they do get, and say they don’t like them.
- Destroy the gifts even if they love them and desperately wanted them.
It may feel personal, but it’s simply how your child relates to the world because of the lasting effects of early childhood neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, you may end up feeling manipulated, lied about, coerced, and judged. It can be tempting to withhold gifts because of these behaviors or because your child is not cooperating with treatment, but that’s not a good strategy.
First, keep in mind that it will be very difficult to execute. Staff will likely compensate by giving your child extra gifts creating an opportunity for triangulation.
Additionally, your child’s therapist will almost certainly see your lack of gifts as a sign you are a cold, and unloving parent – and the focus of your child’s treatment will be side tracked.
Most importantly, your child will internalize feelings of rejection and this will not be a learning lesson no matter how well-intentioned you are. Jessie Hogsett, who was diagnosed with RAD as a child, reminds us that our child’s actions aren’t necessarily reflective of what’s going on inside. He says “I remember being in an RTF during Christmas. So lonely. And I felt totally unwanted. Horrible times. A gift would have made me feel wanted, special, and thought about.”
So, plop on your Christmas hat, sip a peppermint latte, and go shopping.