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Handling the Holidays

Woman blowing snow
Be open to including traditions from the child's
birth home in your own family traditions

Holidays may be a happy time for you and your family, but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing for your foster child. Grief about not being with birth families and memories of past holidays can be very difficult for foster children. They may worry about their birth parents and wonder how they are celebrating the holidays. If they’ve been separated from siblings, they may feel and intense longing to be with them during the holidays. They may feel angry that they’ve lost the comfort and predictability of holiday traditions in their own family. Even if foster children do enjoy the holidays, they may feel they’re betraying their birth parents by having fun with you.

The combination of these emotions can overwhelm children. They might be more anxious, misbehave more often, or become more withdrawn – all of which can be hard on you, especially if you’re feeling holiday stress.

What You Can Do to Help

  • Take the time to explain to the child why you do certain holiday routines and traditions.
  • Ask the child what he/she remembers about food, music, parties, and other holiday traditions in her birth family. If the child can’t talk about it, have her/him draw pictures, and save the drawings in a special scrapbook. Always remember not to push your foster child to talk about her/his birth family. He/She’ll share when he/she’s ready to do so.
  • Be open to including traditions from the child’s birth home in your own family traditions. Encourage the child and other children in your home to develop new traditions they can share and carry out together.
  • Buy a special ornament or holiday symbol that represents the child’s family or heritage. Have the child select the item herself.
  • Make a memory box with items from the child’s birth home, or things that represent good memories about home.
  • Give a journal to an older child or adolescent in which she/he can write her/his feelings or memories about the holidays.
  • If your foster child wants to give a gift to her/his birth parents, help her/him plan what she/he wants to do. Sometimes it can be therapeutic for a child to make a homemade gift for a parent.  Find a project that is appropriate for the child’s skills. Things like simple scrapbooks or decorated photo frames can be fun to make - and to give.
  • If your foster child wants to send a holiday card to her/his birth parent(s), help her/him pick one out. Ask the child if she/he’d like to write a note in the card, and offer to help with things like spelling.  Ask if she/he’d also like to send cards to her/his siblings.
  • If appropriate, try to arrange in advance to have the child talk with her/his birth parents and/or siblings by telephone during the holiday.
  • Big family gatherings can be hard on foster children if they haven’t met your extended family. Try to introduce your foster child to family members before the main holiday event. If that isn’t possible, try showing pictures of family members to the child and go through their names before the party.

Note-icon.pngTry to stay relaxed and calm during what is often a stressful time of year. Say no to the temptation to do “just one more thing.” Some of the best memories for children are of simple things, like listening to holiday music, watching holiday movies, making cookies, and putting up decorations.