It’s easy to overlook reasons why the holidays might be tough for foster children. When they’ve been placed somewhere—even temporarily—they’re in a safe, supportive place. As many foster children come from backgrounds where holidays weren’t full of gifts and celebration, a welcoming home that celebrates the holidays seems like it would create a positive experience.
But, there are also some kids who have experienced positive holidays with their biological families—maybe even a lifetime of them. And when they’re in a new home with new people, it can be scary and stressful.
As we rapidly approach the current holiday season, there are steps you can take to help your foster children feel more comfortable. Here are a few of them:
1. Have a discussion with your foster child.
It’s always a good idea to talk about the holidays with your foster child. The more they know about your family’s traditions and plans, the more comfortable they will feel. Discuss your plans for the holiday—will you be hosting a small or large group of people or traveling somewhere? Do you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or anything else? Do you have any family traditions they may not know about?
It’s also important to get the child’s perspective. Are they accustomed to celebrating the same holiday? What did their biological family used to do over the holidays—and what about it did they like or dislike? Consider adding in some of their traditions to make them feel a little more at home, even if it’s something your family isn’t used to doing.
If they’re old enough to understand, you can always talk to your foster child about what they’re comfortable with. For example, some children who come from a family without a lot of extra income to spend on gifts over the holidays might feel guilty when receiving them. If that’s the case, you can help them purchase a gift for another family member or friend so they can participate in the giving portion of the holidays.
2. Have a discussion with your family and friends.
Make sure you prepare your family and friends for who will be around during the holidays. If you’re staying home and having a low-key holiday with your immediate family, plan on preparing your biological children for what to expect. If they understand why their foster sibling is struggling, they’ll be better equipped to deal with it—and they might even be able to help!
If you’re hosting for extended family and friends or traveling somewhere, be sure to have a conversation with the group beforehand. This is an excellent opportunity to educate extended family on ways they can help your foster child feel included during the holidays.
For example, if your relatives buy gifts for your biological children, make sure they include the foster child, too. Be prepared with ideas for presents if your relatives haven’t had a chance to get to know what your child’s interests and hobbies are. If your get together normally has an annual tradition, consider finding a way to incorporate your foster child in a new and exciting way that gives them a feeling of inclusivity.
3. Help the child stay in touch with family members when possible.
In many cases, families get broken up when children are placed into foster care. If your foster child is spending the holidays away from siblings, it can make their experience much worse. And just how we enjoy catching up with family and friends who we can’t see in person over the holidays, your foster child does too.
While you’re talking with your foster child about plans for the holiday season, be sure to discuss any members of their family they may want to contact. Make a plan for them to stay in touch with relatives and friends from old schools or neighborhoods—whether it’s by setting up a phone call, video call or even sending a card in the mail.
4. Don’t be upset if your foster child shows signs of grief or sadness.
No matter how much effort you put into making your foster child feel more at home, don’t be too hard on yourself if they exhibit signs of frustration. It’s normal for them to feel emotions like depression, and they may even act out or regress to old or negative behaviors that they’ve since overcome. Just remember to be patient with them—it’s their way of coping with a stressful situation.
Ultimately, your foster child might be struggling with a lot of emotions over the holiday season—and that’s okay. But keeping an open line of communication and planning ahead can help turn the experience into a positive one. You can help be the reason they enjoy and look forward to the holidays, and there’s truly nothing better than giving the gift of a safe, healthy environment for a child in need.
At SAFY, we are dedicated to Preserving Families & Securing Futures. If you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, click here to discover whether becoming a foster parent is right for you.
For further information and advice about foster children and the holidays, check out this article from Foster Focus magazine, and learn how you can help serve foster families over the holidays from Shared Justice.