Midst all of the tinsel and lights and despite the excitement and anticipation of the gifts and fun of Christmas day, the reality is that foster children still experience profound losses and yearnings of special memories that cannot be erased and must not be ignored. Even in cases where children were removed due to neglect or even abuse, they tend to remember the good times. In most cases, just the fact that they are removed from their biological parents and siblings during this holiday season can cause immense feelings of mourning. Wondering if his/her biological family are alright, feeling guilty for being away from them and for being a part of a new family, with new ways of celebrating special occasions, etc. … And then, against their own wishes, their past and what they have lost comes crashing in!. Even at what we consider to be ‘happy times’ like Christmas.
Foster children will feel the effects of their experiences in different ways at different ages. They will bring their growing abilities to understand and to express these feelings, as they revisit their pasts over time.
How foster parents can help them during this challenging time:
- Recognize that what the child is feeling is perfectly normal given the situation. Let him/her know that you understand and that it is alright to feel the way he/she does.
- Allow the child to talk about it on his/her terms – resist the temptation to push him/her into talking about their feelings or the past, but do not try to avoid it either. If the child are working with a counselor that is familiar with the child’s background, ask for specific guidelines on how to use this time of year to help him/her work through these emotions, and how to avoid negative triggers.
- Find ways to incorporate traditions that the birth family participated in that the child can remember. Learn along side the child about her native customs if she is culturally different from the rest of your family. By doing this you give the child a sense of pride and self-worth, and, who knows, you may gain a new family tradition!
- Get them involved in outside activities. Play dates, sports, and holiday activities – all help to ward off the sense of sadness that is a common thread for foster children this time of year. Keep them active but do keep things balanced.
- If you have the biological families address, suggest to your foster child that he/she could make a special Christmas card for his/her birth parents. If he/she is eager to do this – provide the stationery and assist in the making of it (if asked to). Send the card via post to the birth family approx. two weeks before Christmas, with NO return address. Or alternatively he/she could give the card to them in person, at the next scheduled visit.
- In the face of all this, your job – whether at Christmas, on birthdays, on Father’s Day or whenever – is to always be available for your foster child. To be open and willing to listen and talk, and allow all of who they are to become part of your holidays and special occasions.
- Rather than taking away from these happy times, embracing them and all of their past allows them to be more fully present – and will allow you, as a family, to be more connected as you move forward.