Christmas in foster care: A new child in the home
04 December 2023
04 December 2023
With Christmas just around the corner, most children will be getting excited for Father Christmas to come and visit but it isn’t always as straightforward as that for children in care. Christmas can be a stressful time for some, it can make them recall past traumas and sometimes they will never have experienced a traditional Christmas.
So, when on top of all this a child finds themselves in a new home in the run up to Christmas, they can find things overwhelming, emotions become heightened and it is all the more important to consider how the addition of Christmas to the scenario can cause extra stress.
Here's some advice from our team to help you have the best Christmas for you and your foster children.
Whilst most homes have Christmas traditions or ways in which they choose to celebrate Christmas not everyone celebrates in the same way. Ask your foster child how they usually spend Christmas. This will allow you to find common ground and to adapt and include things that are familiar to them. This will help them to feel included and considered in your plans.
Christmas is a busy time of year with an increase in social events, family visits and days out with friends. This is likely to interrupt the usual routine in the house and this can be hard for some children to deal with. Try to maintain a stable routine when possible but for plans that are out of your hands make sure to be transparent about upcoming plans and allow plenty of notice. While a child is settling into a new home everything will be new and overwhelming and whilst you know your friends are great to spend time with, they are just more new people to have to meet and to trust. Consider options where your child can take time out from situations, if you are having people over let your child know it is ok to take time out in another room. If you are heading out to an event prepare ways to help your child feel more comfortable, let them know you can leave at any point, bring distractions such as toys, a book or a tablet device and headphones that allow the child to detach from their surroundings if it becomes too much.
Christmas events are likely to have alcohol at them. This might be a simple mulled wine at a Christmas market or could involve people drinking more substantially at a Christmas party. Although this will seem fairly normal to most, this could be quite scary for a child who has been brought up amongst drug and alcohol abuse. In situations where people may be drinking around you prepare the child by explaining that people will not be drinking to excess and that if they become uncomfortable to let you know.
Introduce fun things that you can do with your foster child to include them in Christmas traditions. Having spoken to your child about how they usually celebrate Christmas you will find out things that you can introduce them to as well as including things they have always done.
Why not get the family together to decorate the tree together? This can help your foster child to feel included in family traditions and help them bond with the family. Letting the child be part of decorating and choosing how things look lets them know their opinion is valid and appreciated.
Write a letter to Santa together. Young children might be worried that Santa won’t know where to find them so writing a letter to Santa can be a great way of alleviating worries about having moved home. This is also a good opportunity to learn about your child’s interests and hobbies. Be aware that some children will come from backgrounds of neglect and as such might become overwhelmed at the thought of having things of their own. Take things slowly, allow the child to take time over the list and be prepared that they might ask for practical items such as a coat or a school bag.
I had a three year old (via SGO) on 1st December. Upon reflecting on that time (13 years ago) I’d say don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have the perfect Christmas. Christmas is a busy time in any case but can be made all the more stressful with the expectation that everything needs to be perfect for children who have recently arrived in your care. Just go with it, not everything will go to plan and the children may not react as happily as you would like. Reach out to Calon Cymru staff and fellow carers for support during these times, there’s always someone available to support you. – Rhiannon Bates, Deputy Operations Manager
Food is undoubtedly a core feature of Christmas, but it could also be a triggering feature in your foster child’s life. For children who often went without food or have been left to fend for themselves, often having to feed themselves and maybe siblings, a Christmas feast could create an overwhelming experience. A Christmas dinner could also have many foods that the child might not have experienced before, remember it is not worth ruining the day and the comfort of the child for the sake of eating sprouts at Christmas. If the child is more comfortable with a pizza or chicken nuggets it is better to give them that than to have them not eat at all.
Don’t assume that food will be a problem based on the child’s history. As with most things it is best to have a conversation with them and to get to know what the best option is. Some children might appreciate getting to experience a traditional Christmas for the first time.
Being placed into a foster home will be an emotional time for most children but all this upheaval happening in the run up to Christmas will stir emotions further. Keeping the household as calm as possible will help the child to relax and settle into new surroundings more easily. Make sure to let family and friends know the situation and to avoid unannounced visits as you try to keep a calm home.
Allow the child to find a safe space and to take alone time when they are feeling overwhelmed and avoid any pressures to take part in Christmas activities or visits. Being flexible and prepared to pivot plans when your child needs some quiet time will enable them to build trust and respect for you as you respect their feelings.
Above all else don’t have expectations of how Christmas should be. Be prepared to make changes and allowances for potential challenges that might arise. If everything runs smoothly then that’s a bonus but if not, it isn’t the end of the world. Remember there is always someone at Calon Cymru to help!
04 December 2023
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