7 tips for taking fostered or adopted children on an overseas holiday

Seven lessons learned about taking your fostered or adopted child abroad on holiday

It's the season where many of us are planning to take our family away for a time of - we hope - fun and relaxation.

But many adopted or fostered children struggle with transitions, so going on holiday could well be the source of increased anxiety or dysregulation. When the destination is a foreign culture, then these tricky emotions may well be increased.

We recently had the opportunity to travel to Egypt to see some friends. It was the first time any of our four had been on a plane, and all of them were very excited! But we were also aware of the need to prepare and protect them extra-vigilantly, to minimise any dysregulation caused by the changes in routine.

Here are seven lessons we learned:

1. Gain the relevant permissions – and passports - in good time

If your child needs permission to leave the country e.g. if they're still in the care of the local authority, make sure you ask the relevant authorities in good time, and don't book any part of the holiday before you have confirmation of this.

Make sure you also have passports sorted too, as this can be complicated. I know an adoptive family who tried to get a passport for their son two years after the adoption order was complete, but hit a stumbling block that they needed the full length adoption certificate, which isn’t always given as standard. Thankfully they got it sorted in time, but it took a lot longer than they thought it would.

2. Prepare your child as well as you can

Even the most prepared holiday-maker won't be able to predict every activity for every day of the trip, but make sure you chat with your child about what you do know, being very careful not to promise things which may not happen.

I made a simple book for our children which explained the basic outline of our holiday. I included small details such as what the airport would look like and the fact we'd have to queue to get through security, as well as pictures of our accommodation, and some of the activities we hoped to do, without limiting them to a particular day.

This book was a good chance to embed a small number of simple rules too. Our plane rule was 'No shouting or throwing' (which tells you quite a lot about our boys!) and our swimming rule was 'Don't swim without a grown-up'. By the time we left for our holiday, the children were quoting these back to us.

Some children struggle with changes to routine, transitions or new environments. Careful preparation can help reduce anxiety surrounding these.

3. Ooze confidence - even when you don't feel it

A foreign holiday gives numerous opportunities for hair-raising situations: linguistic misunderstandings, transport problems, unusual opening hours and so on. Even when you're feeling internally worried as to how you're going to get home or buy food, try to project a confident image externally.

Make sure your child always knows that you are in control, and that they can trust you to look after them. Smiling and/or making positive body contact where your child is open to this can make a big difference in how safe they feel.

4. Avoid making promises from assumptions

When we travel to other countries, the language and cultural barriers mean that things don't always happen as we might assume they would at home.

At one point on our trip, we were told of a great place for paddling, and set off in a taxi to find it.

We assumed that there would be sand, which would have been a fairly safe assumption to make in the UK, where sea and sand usually go together - but the place we arrived at had no sand. Our language on the journey must have belied our assumption, because we ended up with kids who were very disappointed about not being able to build sandcastles!

It's so easy to make these automatic assumptions, so be aware that different countries are...different!

5. Try and keep consistent boundaries, but allow yourself a break

It is important to try and be as consistent as you can with your usual routines and boundaries, but remember that - particularly overseas - this will simply not be possible all of the time.

Give yourself grace! You are on holiday too. Sometimes you need to take a break or do things a bit differently for your own sanity, even if a child is slightly dysregulated as a result. Look after yourself so that you can look after your child.

6. Plan food carefully

Many children require regular, balanced meals and snacks in order to help maintain blood sugar levels and regulate emotions. For a looked-after child, this can be the difference between a relatively peaceful child and a child having a half-hour meltdown.

Be aware of the need to plan ahead. Even if you're being catered for, you may find yourself double-checking the length of activities and journey times in order to ensure that everyone is back for the next meal.

Going self-catering, as we did, can give you helpful flexibility, but may take a bit more thinking about in an unfamiliar place. Shops and restaurants may not exist in the places you're expecting them to, and opening hours might vary from what you're used to.

We tried to make sure we had a good supply of snacks at all times, so that if a restaurant seemed impossible to find, or a meal was slow in coming, we could keep hungry mouths and emotional waves at bay.

7. Plan some quiet days after the holiday

Once you've returned from holiday, it'd be easy to think that your job was done, but coming home can be just as difficult as leaving it for children who struggle with transitions.

My son found the weeks following our holiday much harder than the holiday itself, and I wonder if this was because we gave a lot of thought to preparing him for, and reassuring him during, our trip, but less thought to what would happen when we got home. We launched him into extended family celebrations over Easter, followed by a reasonably busy week of school holidays, and then back to school. I wish we'd thought to give him an easier ride.

If at all possible, don't make big plans for the days immediately after the holiday. Your child may take some time to adjust to being back in the usual place with usual routines. Allow time to relax and process the holiday. Look at your holiday photos, if that's helpful, and enjoy any souvenirs you've brought home. As far as possible, return to normal routines of meals and activities, without over-stretching yourselves.

Above all, enjoy your holiday together. Take things at a pace you can all handle, and enjoy the adventure of visiting new places together. The memories you make, the conversations you have and even the tears you shed together will continue to help build the attachment that is making your child feel safer every day.

Lucy Rycroft for Home for Good (LucyRycroft.com)



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