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Tips for celebrating Christmas with your first foster child

Christmas can be a magical time of year, but for a lot of children in care, the festive season can be an emotional one. Here are some ways to make your first foster child feel special during the holidays.

December 20 2023 - 3 min read

As Christmas approaches, many families will be spending quality time together and making happy memories. It’s a period of being joyful, thankful and excited for the new year ahead. However, Christmas can be extremely difficult for children in foster care. Being away from their birth family at such a poignant time can leave them feeling lonely, confused and sad. It might also trigger painful memories from an abusive or neglectful past.

When you welcome your first foster child into your home and are preparing to celebrate Christmas together, here are 10 ways to make sure they feel special, wanted and loved.

Tips For Celebrating Christmas With Your Foster Child

1. Ask how they usually celebrate

Not everybody celebrates Christmas in the same way, so it's important to understand what the festive season means to them. Ask your first foster child how they would usually spend this time of year so you make this Christmas inclusive of any activities, foods or traditions they’re used to. This way, they’ll feel more at home and hopefully more relaxed in their new environment.

2. Let them know your Christmas plans

Springing last minute family gatherings or Christmas activities on your foster child could make them feel anxious and uncomfortable. They need stability and routine, so sharing your festive plans ahead of time is a way to instill that sense of security they’ve likely lacked in the past. Fill out the calendar together so you can chat with them about what they can expect for each event. Knowing what’s going to happen and when will make them feel more in control, which is what they need after experiencing so much disruption.

3. Include their birth family

Regardless of how turbulent their home life could have been, most children will miss family members while they’re in foster care. And these feelings of longing can be heightened during Christmas. As a foster parent, you should encourage and support your foster child in maintaining relations with their birth family. It’s important for their wellbeing, but also because the end goal is to reunite them when the time is right. You could make Christmas cards together to send to their parents, siblings or grandparents, or arrange contact through your dedicated Active Care Solutions social worker.

4. Buy a personalised bauble

It’s common for a lot of foster children to lack a sense of belonging, and these feelings might exacerbate during the holidays. Make your first foster child feel part of the family with their very own personalised bauble to hang on the tree. That way, they know they are wanted and loved by their new foster family.

5. Decorate the tree together

This is a great bonding experience for you and your first foster child. Letting them choose decorations and being involved in how the home looks helps to cement their place within the family too. Put on some Christmas music or a family-friendly festive film to make it extra fun.

6. Ask what they want for Christmas dinner

Food is a big part of Christmas festivities, but for children in care, it can be quite triggering. This is because they may not have been fed regularly, were left to fend for themselves or find food for younger siblings. Food may also have been used as a punishment in the past. Make sure Christmas dinner is as stress-free for them as possible by asking what they’d prefer to eat. They might be fine eating what you normally have, or they might prefer to have a pizza or something else that is ‘safe’. Either way, it’s better they eat something than nothing at all.

7. Give them meaningful gifts

While you might be tempted to buy your foster child lots of essentials for Christmas, like clothes and toiletries, we think it’s better to gift them something they want, not need. It’s quite possible they’ve never received a gift at Christmas, so make this year super special and buy them something they’ve longed for but never dreamed of getting.

8. Make new traditions that include your foster child

Sadly, many children in care have come from abusive or neglectful pasts, so family traditions might be few and far between. Traditions give children a sense of belonging, so when you become a foster parent and are celebrating Christmas with a foster child for the first time, come up with a new ritual to commemorate the moment. Even if they’re only with for a short time, it’ll be something they can take with them and continue in their own life.

9. Be sensitive about their emotions

In amongst all the Christmas chaos, your first foster child is likely to still be hurting from being separated from their birth family. They might be withdrawn and need a lot of personal space as they cope with all the changes around them. Be patient, and don’t pressurise them to engage with all the Christmas activities if they don’t want to. Essentially, you want them to feel safe, comfortable and at ease, and quiet alone time might be what they need right now.

10. Keep it calm

Being placed into a foster home can be an overwhelming experience for many children. They’re meeting new people for the first time, and will need time to adjust to their new situation. Also, loud, chaotic environments can be distressing for young people who have experienced trauma in their past. Help them settle in smoothly by keeping things relaxed and low-key, and instruct your wider family circle to not turn up unexpectedly, as this could make the child feel nervous or unsafe. You never know, your foster child might show signs or tell you they want the festivities amped up – the key is to always follow their lead and go at their pace.

Could you give a vulnerable child a safe, loving home?

There are thousands of young people who urgently need the safety and security of a loving foster home. If you think you could give this to a vulnerable child, please get in touch. Our friendly fostering advisers will get back to you at a convenient time for a quick chat and to answer any questions you have.

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