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Christmas can, and should be, a magical time for children and their families, but many fostered children and young people can find this time of year very stressful and difficult. Christmas can present a mixed bag of emotions, and it’s important for foster carers to acknowledge the feelings the Season may evoke, and support the young person to manage the issues it can raise. The great thing about Christmas is that it can present a great opportunity to start building up a new bank of positive memories and traditions for the future.
For many children in foster care, their anxiety levels about the festive period may be raised to high levels, because they may for example, recall past experiences where alcohol has played a significant part in celebrations, possibly culminating in violence by the end of the day. Other children will have experienced parents being effectively absent during Christmas as a result of drugs or substance misuse. The conventional picture of a warm and loving family sharing a Christmas lunch and unwrapping gifts may be million miles away from their reality.
Whatever their Christmas experiences, the concept of “family” during the festive period can often compound a child’s feelings of guilt, loss, fear or sadness at not being with their birth parents, and this can impact negatively on their emotions and their behaviour. It takes patience and empathy to support them through their feelings and to help them manage their upset and distress.
Children and young people who do not understand, or are not prepared for the unique customs and traditions that surround Christmas in their foster family may feel on the edge of the celebrations and may not feel like they belong. This experience can be made easier simply by foster carers taking time to explain what Christmas means to them and their family, helping the child feel engaged and able to enjoy the festivities.
Involving foster children in the planning for Christmas may help reduce their fears and make them feel a part of the celebrations. If guests are visiting or staying at the home, it will help if they are already known to the foster children, or at the very least, are talked about prior to their arrival in order to allay any fears.
Ensuring that the foster child or young person is included within any family traditions will also be a big help to making them feel welcomed, for example, have they got a special stocking for the fireplace, or a pillowcase for presents?
Remember that whatever challenges your foster child presents to you over the Christmas period, help to manage this will always be available from your agency. Your experience, skills and training will help you get through. Foster carers are professionals who excel at trusting their instincts and using their resilience to solve problems. They are foster carers for a reason; they care, and they make a huge difference, not only for Christmas, but for life.
We would like to wish all Foster Carers a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year, and to all of you thinking of becoming a Foster Carer, come and join us it’s the most rewarding of careers and a great way to start the New Year.
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