Christmas is a funny time of year for all of us; some embrace every second of it, putting up their tree in November and bedecking the house with lights, others take a slightly less full-on approach, enjoying quiet time with their loved ones. For many of us, celebrating the festive season is a very personal affair, born out of the way we celebrated as children.
For children and young people living with foster families, Christmas can be a difficult period to cope with. They will have found themselves in a home that may have different traditions to them; they may not celebrate Christmas because of their faith, or they may never have enjoyed a good Christmas. With that in mind, it’s important to help them feel special, comfortable, and involved in the preparations for the big day.
Sitting down and talking to the children and young people in your care about the memories they have of Christmas is a great way to gauge how they feel about the celebration. You’ll also learn a lot about what can make them feel comfortable; for example, if they expect a visit from Santa. It’s sometimes easy to expect children within the care system to have had horrible Christmases (and many have), but we always need to remember that abuse or a parenting breakdown aren’t the only reasons for a child or young person to be placed with another family.
Learning what they like and don’t like about the day can help you put strategies in place to help them (and the rest of your family) enjoy a good Christmas.
A great idea for Christmas decorations is to create personalised baubles for the whole family that can be hung on the tree. It helps any foster children in your family feel they are part of your family unit and provides a keepsake for them to cherish. Invite them to help you put up the tree and try to avoid reorganising the decorations once the children have gone to bed.
Family advent calendars are a perfect way of involving everyone in festive activities. It could contain activities, movies, or new games that the whole family can enjoy together. From something as simple as a fancy hot chocolate night in onesies to going on a festive day out, opening a surprise parcel every day is an inclusive family activity that will create great memories.
If a young person or child living in your care is in contact with their birth family, help them to save up and wrap gifts for them. Doing this helps to show that you aren’t trying to replace their family but are an extension of the people involved in their life. Having a conversation may also help you understand any fears or worries they may have about celebrating in your home.
Sharing how Christmas runs in your home is useful for so many reasons. For children and young people who are of different faiths, it helps them understand why Christmas is important; for those living with anxiety issues it means that there won’t be unexpected surprises; and for those who may not know how to celebrate, they can feel informed and involved.
You can even do as far as discussing what you’ll be eating on the day and asking if there’s anything else that they would like on the menu or if there’s an activity that their family always does.
If you have people visiting your home or you are going to visit others, share photos with the children in your care so they know who they will be meeting. You might also want to consider planning visits to your friends and family instead of them visiting you, just in case it becomes a bit overwhelming.
Finding yourself in a new family situation can be stressful at the best of times (for anyone who hasn’t seen Meet the Parents, it’s a great example). Living with a foster family at Christmas can raise many emotions and worries for a child or young person, so let them know there’s a safe space they can retreat to if needed. They may not need to use it but knowing it’s there will help.
If things don’t run smoothly, you just need to shrug it off and not take it personally. Let’s be honest, there’s always some kind of glitch on the day, so take it in your stride. And if a child in your care shows behavioural changes or indifference to the day, gently talk to them about it after the festivities are over, doing that could promise you a smooth Christmas next year.
The Affinity Family wish you all a peaceful and happy festive season, and want to remind you that if things don’t go quite to plan, there’s always someone at the end of the phone.