5 Essential Tips for Fostering at Christmas

foster family christmas

While Christmas is a magical time of year, it can be challenging for foster children separated from their birth families. Memories come flooding back in overwhelming intensity, and it’s normal for children to feel excluded as families celebrate with loved ones and continue long-standing traditions.

Of course, the whole family can still have a joyful holiday season as long as you lead with sensitivity. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity for integration and building meaningful connections over tinsel, trees and turkey. As you invite foster children to share the special occasion, they’ll feel like a valued family member, perhaps for the first time ever.

Keep reading as we highlight some of the challenges to look out when fostering at Christmas, before sharing five tips for stress-free festivities.

Challenges to consider when fostering at Christmas

Christmas can be a triggering time for foster children as they remember past experiences with their birth families. Some may have never celebrated at all, with holidays marked by disappointment and upset, whereas others will sorely miss the familiarity of old routines. Whatever the sentiment, be prepared for children to display unpredictable behaviour like withdrawal, outbursts and mood swings.

Ultimately, foster children may not be looking forward to the big day as much as those around them, especially if they’re apart from much-loved siblings and cousins. As well as Christmas itself, the run-up can be equally distressing as reminders pop up everywhere, from supermarket shelves to TV advertisements.

Another common issue that foster families face is faith. Sometimes, a child in care may not follow Christian traditions. Even though local authorities and agencies always try to place children with families of similar beliefs, it’s not always possible. However, your child’s social worker can offer advice on how to move through the festive season together while honouring different religions and customs.

5 ways to make Christmas in foster care special

As mentioned, Christmas is a catalyst for togetherness – a chance for you to enjoy precious bonding time and make your foster child feel loved by including them in activities. To alleviate anxiety and make the occasion one to remember (for all the right reasons), you should:

  1. Prepare foster children for the festivities ahead
  2. Involve the child’s birth family if appropriate
  3. Include foster children in Christmas activities
  4. Create new traditions together
  5. Maintain a calm environment


1.    Prepare foster children for the festivities ahead

Foster children need to have a reliable routine because structure equals safety. If you blast ahead with impromptu gatherings and celebrations, children are likely to become increasingly nervous. Surprises are essentially loose cannons – uncontrolled situations that supercharge fear. Plus, some young people in care don’t know what to expect at Christmas because they come from non-typical backgrounds.

Keeping your foster child comfortable means letting them know what’s going to happen and when. Use a calendar to mark get-togethers or events, and communicate plans well ahead of time. Even better, let your child organise some of the fun. By doing this, they’ll feel more in control and less like a prisoner of your schedule.

2.    Involve the child’s birth family if appropriate

Above all else, you shouldn’t make a foster child feel like you’re trying to replace their birth family. Not only will this lead to resentment as children feel forced to pick sides, but fostering is usually a temporary arrangement with the primary goal being reunification where possible.

Many foster children miss their parents, grandparents and siblings, but especially so over the holiday season. You can help them manage their homesickness by including their birth family in small ways, like sending handmade cards or arranging contact through a social worker. Additionally, make sure you give your foster child space to talk about past Christmases. They might want to share some of their experiences as a way to reclaim the occasion.

3.    Include foster children in Christmas activities

There are so many engaging activities you can do as a family over Christmas. How about decorating the tree together with personalised baubles and glittering garlands? You could even teach your foster child to cook moreish mince pies or gooey, fruity puddings to feast on while watching their favourite wintry films.

Board games are a brilliant way to spend cosy evenings at home, or you could take your giggling brood out to visit Santa’s grotto. If you have children already, they’ll benefit from spending time with their foster siblings while embarking on fun new adventures.

4.    Create new traditions together

It’s crucial to continue family traditions for the sake of birth children, but you can always add to your repertoire by asking your foster child if there’s anything they’d like to do. Combining hobbies and interests makes Christmas much more exciting for everyone. Taking it one step further, you might want to create new rituals to celebrate your first holiday together.

5.    Maintain a calm environment

Christmas can be chaotic with streams of guests and unexpected parties, but that’s not always what’s best for foster children. In cases of past abuse, children get distressed when strangers appear from nowhere and commotions may cause panic. We suggest keeping the celebrations small until a child settles, especially if it’s their first Christmas in care.

If visitors are coming round, let children know in advance. You could even share some photos so they can connect names and faces. Similarly, prepare guests by explaining how to make your foster child feel safe, whether that’s a friendly introduction or giving them plenty of personal space.

We’re here to help over the Christmas period

Christmas rarely runs smoothly at the best of times, let alone when you’re caring for a vulnerable child. However, if you’re new to fostering at Christmas, there’s no need to worry. Here at Olive Branch Fostering, there’s a wealth of support available, including advice groups and 24/7 telephone lines to ensure your family’s wellbeing over the holiday season.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us and one of our friendly team members will get back to you as soon as possible. Alternatively, give us a call on 01706 558910.