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Dec 15, 2016

by Catrina C. Johnson, MSW, Foster Care Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Georgia, Atlanta                             

Perhaps a child has come into your home through foster care this year, and you’ve been parenting for a several months. Things have been going well so far… you’ve made it through back-to-school, birthday celebrations, and family dinners.

Welcome to December! With Christmas just around the corner, your thoughts are consumed with the Christmas story, Christmas cookies, Christmas carols, and Christmas presents. You’ve made a list and checked it twice, but you weren’t prepared for this:

“Santa, can I see my mom for Christmas?”

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the little things that, as a foster parent, you forget that the child you are caring for has a family he or she is connected to and, in most cases, would like to see for the holidays. They may have memories of great times with siblings, neighborhood friends, and others they love and miss—people who were in their lives before you.

You’ve likely done everything you can to make this child feel safe and welcome in your home. You’ve shown love and care and support. So, what can you do about this one wish for Mom and other family members they may be missing?

Here are three ideas from to strengthen your child’s emotional stability around the holidays:

1. Help them make sure their loved ones are okay.

Young people may worry that their family members are struggling through the holidays. If homelessness or housing has been an issue, the cold winter season may bring added hardship. Your child may experience guilt if they feel a loved one is struggling while they are living in relative comfort. Knowing that a biological parent or sibling has shelter from the cold or has other basic needs met may ease a child’s worry. Talk with your foster care specialist to see what information you can learn if the child is concerned.

2. Understand if they pull away.

Despite your best efforts, your child may simply withdraw during the holidays. Understand this is most likely is not intended as an insult or a reflection of how they feel about you but rather their own coping mechanism. Allow for “downtime” during the holidays that will provide the child with some time to themselves if they need it (although some might prefer to stay busy to keep their minds occupied). Be sure to fit in one-on-one time to talk with your child about what they are feeling during this emotional and often confusing time of year.

3. Prepare them for your holiday routines.

Talk with the child about your family’s holiday traditions. Do you celebrate over multiple days, or is there one “main” celebration? Are there religious customs? Will gifts be exchanged? What should they wear? Who will they meet? What preparations need to be done in advance? Will there be visitors in your home? Will they be taken on visits to the homes of other family or friends? Will the child be expected to participate in any of these activities? Knowing what to expect will help decrease the child’s anxiety around the holidays. Avoiding surprises can decrease or diffuse seasonal tensions.

Thank you for being a foster parent and caring for children in need—during the holidays and throughout the year!

P.S. So what’s the status on those Christmas cookies?

Click here for more ideas to support a child in foster care through the holidays.

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