Christmas is a magical time of year for children, but it can be difficult for many young people in foster care, as the memories and emotions of the past come flooding back.
As the festive season approaches, we ask some of our foster carers for their tips on how to bring back the joy and make a foster child feel special and part of the family at Christmas.
1. Put The Tree Up Together
Spend some quality time together putting the tree up during the run-up to Christmas. Let your foster child choose some of the decorations and place them on the tree, wherever they want.
2. Buy a Personalised Bauble
Make your foster child feel special by purchasing a personalised bauble that has their name or a photo of them on it, and place it on the tree next to any of your other children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. They also make a lovely keepsake for when and if the children move on. Getting Personal has a great range of decorations that can be personalised.
3. Family Christmas Advent Calendar
Bring the family together with a shared advent calendar, where you open a parcel together every day. This could include things like a Christmas movie to watch as a family, hot chocolate and marshmallows, a make your own gingerbread house kit or a new game like Rapidough.
4. Share Your Plans for the Day
Take some time to talk to your foster child about the plans for the day and what to expect now that they’re part of your family.
If you’re expecting any guests over the Christmas period, make sure you let them know who’s coming over and if they’ve not met before perhaps show some photos. You could even share photos from last Christmas, so they know what to expect. This will help to take the element of surprise out of the day, that often causes stress and anxiety.
5. Talk to Them About Their Past Christmas Memories
Find out how your foster child feels about Christmas, let them share their memories and take the time to understand whether they have any bad memories - if they’re happy to open up, of course.
If they have their own traditions, then try to include as many as possible in your day so it’s a little more familiar. This will help make sure Christmas day is a pleasant experience for everyone.
6. Remember The Child’s Birth Family
If contact is being made between the child in your care and their family, then it’s good to show to the child that you’re not trying to replace their family, but an extension of it.
Help them save up, buy and wrap small, thoughtful gifts for their birth family, make Christmas cards for them to take with them on their contact over the Christmas period (if appropriate) and talk about them openly. This helps the child in your care feel like both them and their family are part of your extended family too.
7. Let Them Help Choose The Menu
Share your typical Christmas food menu with your foster child and ask what they’d like to eat on the big day – even if it is chicken nuggets!
A small gesture like this shows that you’re trying to make them feel involved. Maybe also let them help you prepare some of the food and let them watch as everyone enjoys the food they’ve helped to cook – great for confidence-boosting.
8. Be Mindful of Their Emotions
Christmas can be difficult for a child in care. While it’s great to have lots of fun arranged for the festive period, make sure you also plan some downtime and give your foster child a quiet space to escape if they become overwhelmed by it all.
9. Plan Visits to Friends & Family
Instead of hosting lots of events at home, try to visit friends and family with your foster child, so you can leave at any time if things get a little too much for the child.
If you’re planning to host something at home, share photographs of who will be coming along and also some photos from other events at Christmas. Also make sure you and your guests are sensitive to the child’s background, especially if there’s a history of alcohol abuse.
10. Don’t Expect Everything To Run Smoothly
Christmas can be emotional for a looked after child – they may feel sad that they’re not with their birth family or perhaps it may bring back some bad memories.
Either way, don’t put the pressure on for perfection and expect everything to run smoothly. If it does, then that’s a bonus!
If you’re coming into your first Christmas as a foster carer, then we really hope some of these tips will give you some ideas to make this year very special.
If you’d like more advice, then please feel free to give your local team a call or have a chat with your Social Worker – we want to make sure that Christmas is enjoyable for everyone.