12 Top Tips for Christmas as a foster family!

As well as a happy time, Christmas can be an emotional and difficult time for our children.

It can bring up many emotions for them and this can mean that children can struggle to manage their emotions and their behaviour can deteriorate. There are some simple things that carers can do to try and help our children cope during this traditional family time. In turn, this will also help to create a happier Christmas for all…fingers and toes crossed!

1. Talk about Christmas

A child in care may have never had their own Christmas stocking or a tree or gifts. They may never have had a Christmas like your own and it’s important for them to understand what is going to happen. Explain your attitude towards Christmas and discuss with them their experiences of Christmas. Be ready to hear about their Christmases and encourage them to share good memories of Christmases past. Let them know that their way of doing Christmas can be integrated into yours.

2. Write a letter to Santa

Most children will do this at home or at school, and this will help a child to confirm that Santa knows where they are going to be if this is their first Christmas with you. Children may worry Santa wont be able to find them.

3. Expect this time of year to be really emotional

Consider this time of year to be emotional for the children and young people you support especially for some children who may not be able to see their family or may be worried for the welfare of parents or siblings. 

4. Maintain routine where possible

Children thrive on routine and maintaining this will help children to cope. If a routine cannot be maintained, organise and arrange a Christmas calendar ahead of each activity to help the young people to prepare. Talk through any worries and coping strategies for those circumstances which you know young people struggle. It’s always important to ask them what they may like to do and who they would like to see.

5. Lots of visitors can be overwhelming

Until you know your young person well and how they cope it can be better to limit visitors to manageable levels. If you include friends in your festivities, talk about them to the children in advance. The more they know about who will be visiting, the less difficult it will be for them to relax amongst strangers.

6. Children might not feel comfortable to receive gifts

Children who have not had much experience of Christmas and presents may find lots of presents and attention too much pressure for them. To help, spread out present giving. It doesn’t matter if presents are still being opened over the Christmas holiday. Avoid putting pressure on children to react in the ‘right’ way. Children in care often have feelings of unworthy and undeserving this makes it really hard for them to accept praise, gifts and rewards.

7. Arrange a visit for the child to see their family- where appropriate/possible

Organise contact with parents and siblings as close to Christmas day as possible. A lack of contact over Christmas might cause a child to worry about their parents, grandparents or siblings. By working closely with a child’s social worker, a phone call on Christmas day might be arranged, and the child’s birth family can support a child to enjoy Christmas, without worrying about them or feeling guilty.

8. Think about diversity and a child’s own traditions

Respect a child’s culture and diversity. Celebrate their customs and religions as well as your own. Try to include something from the foster child’s own ‘Christmas traditions’. There is likely to be something they did at home or previous homes, that is important to them. It might be as simple as helping them to make a card for mum.

9. Allow your child or young person to have down time

Allow them to retreat to a quiet or safe place in your home if they need a break. It can be sensory overload even for us as adults. It can be extremely draining staying regulated so follow their ques and encourage them to have down town.

10. Encourage a child to feel part of the family celebrations

Small things such as having their names on their own Christmas stockings and making it clear that these are their stockings to keep for next Christmas increases the message that they are a part of the festivities. It helps to make a point of doing something special with each child in the house. Each child can have a special Christmas related duty. This gives you some one-on-one with each child and allows them to feel involved and somewhat special.

11. Involve the child in the Christmas food shop

Some children may have concerns about whether there will be enough food. Let them help you shop for groceries for the Christmas meals. This will give them the opportunity to tell you what they like or don’t like or never eaten before.

12. Remember there are no rules, no right or wrong ways to celebrate

Be kind to yourself also, lower expectations and make sure you have your own little treat wrapped up under the tree from yourself as you most certainly are worth it. It is also good to demonstrate to children the importance of self care, self compassion and self love.

For a few other ideas :

Read first hand accounts from The Fostering Network of ‘Fostering at Christmas’