Supporting Foster Children During the Christmas Season
Navigate the holiday season with our latest blog. Discover strategies for supporting foster children during Christmas
Even though Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for many, for children in care and their families, it can also be the most difficult time of the year.
Christmas can bring up painful emotions and memories for foster children, that can make the festive season very challenging. While the idea of Christmas can feel exciting, it’s very common for foster children to experience mixed emotions.
This is where therapeutic fostering and offering unconditional support and understanding to your foster child comes in. In this article, we’ll look at ways you can support and comfort your foster child and share tips for supporting foster children at Christmas, to show you how to make Christmas for foster children magical.
Christmas for Foster Children
The fact is, Christmas can be very hard for some children in care. Some may not have contact with their birth family, others might not know who their birth family are, and some might have experienced neglect and abuse during the season. Making it not feel very jolly at all.
As such, they might experience various mixed emotions - excitement, nostalgia, grief, uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety. They might have never received gifts, eaten a Christmas lunch, been to visit Santa in his grotto, or experienced the love and comfort of a secure family during the festive period.
This can make it challenging as a foster parent. You want to give your foster child the Christmas they deserve, but you also want to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of your child.
Whether you are long-term fostering, or fostering your child for a short period, these tips for supporting foster children at Christmas can help.
Helping Your Foster Child at Christmas
1. Prepare Them for the Festivities
Routine and predictability can help foster children feel more secure during the festive period. If your child is used to a certain routine, and it changes without warning for a few weeks in the lead up to Christmas, it can cause upset.
A reliable routine and structure equals safety and security. Impromptu celebrations, parties, and guests can lead your foster child to become nervous and unsettled. Ensure you keep your child feeling comfortable and settled by letting them know what’s going to happen and when - even if it’s something small like going out for a meal or seeing a Christmas film in the cinema. You can create a calendar together to mark down what events you are planning and when so they have a good idea of what is happening well in advance.
You could even involve your foster child by asking them if there is anything they would like to add to the calendar, which can give them a sense of belonging.
2. Encourage Them to Get Involved
Christmas is more than just a day. The run up to Christmas and the festive period is full of wonder, excitement, and magic. If there are traditions your family usually takes part in, involve your foster child. Everything from going out to find the perfect tree, choosing new decorations, and decorating the tree together can make wonderful memories both you and your foster child can cherish for a lifetime. Christmas traditions for foster families can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, so speak to your foster child and see if there is anything special they would like to do. You might even want to create new Christmas traditions to help build positive memories and create a sense of belonging, stability, and connection.
3. Communicate and Listen
Christmas can be a triggering time for children in care as they remember past experiences with their birth family. Whether they have never celebrated the holiday, have experienced challenging Christmases, or they miss the familiarity of their old routine, it’s common for some children to display unpredictable behaviour.
Talking and listening to your child are key to understanding and addressing the unique emotions they may be feeling about Christmas. Create a safe space for them to express their feelings, whether it's excitement, sadness, or anxiety. If your foster child is happy to open up, gently encourage open conversations about their past experiences with Christmas, and give them the time and space to share any memories or worries. Practice active listening by being attentive and ensuring you validate their emotions. Let them know that it’s absolutely OK to feel a range of emotions, and that you are there for them to make Christmas special. Whatever that might mean.
4. Give Them a Safe Space
Christmas can be overwhelming for many of us, but it may be more so for a child who has come from a traumatic background. They may need some alone time to process their emotions, so providing them with a safe, personal space they can go to whenever they need a few minutes alone is a sensitive way to recognise this.
If your foster child ever feels overwhelmed or seems to pull away, let them know that they have the option to join in with your plans at their own pace, and that it’s OK to take breaks whenever they want. Their safe space can simply be their own bedroom, as long as it’s somewhere they can retreat to whenever they need it.
5. Try to Keep Things Calm
We know that Christmas comes with a lot of excitement and chaotic fun, especially when younger children are involved. But streams of guests, unexpected parties, and busy, loud home environments might not be the best thing for your foster child.
If your child has experienced trauma such as abuse, having strangers come to the house for holiday gatherings could cause panic and anxiety. If your foster child is unsettled, it might be best to avoid parties and just stick to more intimate, gentle celebrations at home. However, if you do have festive visitors, ensure you let your child know well in advance. You could tell them about the people coming, show them photos, and explain who they are to get them familiar with them. It’s also a good idea to prepare any guests so they can make sure they understand how your foster child might be feeling.
6. Get Support
Fostering is something that you shouldn’t do alone. At Christmas or any other time of the year, it’s important to embrace the support networks around you. At Fostering People, we have a wide range of available sources at your disposal, including therapists, support groups, and counselling services. We’re here to help you and your foster child to have a magical Christmas together.
It’s also crucial to reach out to your personal support network - friends and family and other fostering families who can lend a hand, or even a comforting ear. This not only gives you emotional support, but also opens up opportunities for your foster child to build relationships with peers who may share similar experiences. Never be afraid to ask for help. This is something we are all in together.
Support Your Foster Child at Christmas
Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to create lasting memories and provide comfort for your foster child. By following these tips and ideas, you can make a significant positive impact on your foster child’s life - both at Christmas and beyond.
While the role of a foster parent is to give the child in your care the safe and loving home they deserve, we know how important it is to have a support network around you. That’s why we offer not just exceptional support for children in care, but for our wonderful foster carers too. If you need any help, advice, or just a friendly ear to listen, we’re here for you.