Christmas with a foster child

For most families Christmas is a time to celebrate and have fun. However, for children who have experienced abuse and neglect and are living away from home, it can be a stressful and sad time, evoking memories from the past. It is also a time when children and young people can become acutely aware that they are fostered. This could be because of:

  • Changes to their daily routine
  • An awareness of another person’s stress
  • Contact with birth family
  • Meeting new people
  • Visiting new places
  • Loud parties with people drinking
  • Sensory overload
  • Extra demands on carers that may leave a child feeling anxious and alone.

Many children need additional support and understanding at Christmas. You may see the following:

  • A return to behaviour that had stopped or reduced
  • Poor impulse control (e.g. opening presents before Christmas or eating the chocolate decorations!)
  • Difficulty following instructions and remembering rules
  • Increased levels of arousal and rapid changes of mood (excited can quickly become overwhelmed)
  • Excessive eating or food hoarding
  • Asking lots of questions, wanting reassurance
  • Clingy and fearful of separation
  • Sleep difficulties and nightmares.

10 things you can do to help a foster child cope with Christmas:

  1. Develop an understanding of your stress levels, and those of the children you are caring for. This will help you respond to their behaviour by understanding they are letting you know, in their own way, that they need help.
  2. Maintain as many of their usual routines as possible – children cope better when they feel they can control or predict what is going to happen.
  3. Prepare the child for changes to their normal routines, giving as much detail as possible i.e. where you are going, why, who will be there, what to expect.
  4. Allow extra time to prepare the child for transitions, such as going from one house to another.
  5. Have an open and honest conversation with children about their birth family. With the emphasis on having a ‘family’ Christmas they will be thinking of their birth parents and siblings and may welcome the opportunity to talk.
  6. If you go to a party, identify a safe person, someone the child knows and can stay with or come back to if they are feeling insecure.
  7. Agree a “special sign” with a child so that they can indicate when they need some support or are feeling anxious.
  8. Make sure there are opportunities for you and your children to have a quiet time every day.
  9. Encourage children to take part in preparing for Christmas, help them to feel included.
  10. If birth family have promised lots of gifts, gently prepare the child for disappointment whilst avoiding any negativity towards family members.

You will have your own strategies but think ahead and plan for you and your family to have a safe and Happy Christmas!