For many, Christmas is a magical time of year. There’s more food, drink and music than you could ever want, families get together to swap presents around glittering trees and people reflect on their future dreams. Yet, it can be a challenging time for foster children who may feel the loss of their birth family more profoundly than ever.
The happiest times are often the most difficult for children in care. They may feel guilty over enjoying themselves or observe the contrast between their foster and birth families more acutely. Those with traumatic pasts struggle with memories of neglect and abuse, which can lead to tantrums, withdrawal and perplexing mixed emotions.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate. Instead, you simply need to remain sensitive to your foster child’s needs while choosing activities that strip away stress and prioritise togetherness. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Keep it simple, sensitive and engaging
December is notoriously busy with present shopping, grotto visits and trips to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and whoever else needs ticking off the list. However, this kind of hecticness and change to routine isn’t necessarily helpful for foster children, who often crave comfort and stability.
Unnecessary busyness is a cause of stress for all children (and adults, come to think of it), especially after a long school term. However, when that child has experienced early-life trauma, the constant buzz and frenetic energy can feel even more unbearable.
As a result, it’s best for foster families to choose Christmas activities that are simple, sensitive and engaging. There are bucket loads of exciting and cost-effective ideas out there, and here are just a few of our favourites.
Decorate the tree together
There’s nothing more Christmassy than a bright and brilliant tree. Not only does it get everyone in the festive spirit, but it also provides an opportunity for the whole family to get together and express their creativity.
Letting your foster child choose some of the decorations is a fantastic way to make them feel more included, as it’s common for children in care to feel like the black sheep of the family around Christmas. To make them feel really special, you could even purchase a bauble that includes their name or photo. Not On The High Street sells a treasure chest of personalised decorations, all handmade by the UK’s best independent businesses.
Turn Christmas shopping into a family day out
Gift shopping doesn’t have to be stressful. Instead, why not turn it into a fun family adventure? As well as making a great day out, it’s a chance to remember your foster child’s birth family.
Many foster children desperately miss their family around Christmas and there’s often a feeling that carers are trying to replace birth parents. By helping children to buy and wrap presents for their loved ones, you show you’re not trying to replace their family, but become an extension of it instead. For a budget-friendly alternative, you could swap costly presents for thoughtful, handmade cards.
Cook some delicious treats
Festive cookies, mince pies, truffles, stuffing and pigs in blankets – food plays a central role in any Christmas celebration. It’s a way for us to connect and kick-back, and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing people enjoy the meals we’ve lovingly created.
Getting your foster child involved with the Christmas menu is undeniably confidence-boosting. Of course, it’s fun to get messy in the kitchen, but giving them such a pivotal role also demonstrates that you find them trustworthy and responsible.
Bond over board games
Instead of connecting to the internet and spending hours scrolling through social media, connect with each other over traditional board games like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Cluedo.
Studies show that playing board games improves cognitive impairment and depression while contributing to healthy behavioural modifications. Additionally, they give foster children something to focus on, which directs energy away from painful memories and past experiences.
Cooperative games where you work towards a common goal are an especially good choice because they involve a higher degree of social interaction, pulling foster children out of isolation and loneliness.
Relax with a movie night (and popcorn, of course)
Nothing beats a cosy old-fashioned movie night with all the trimmings. It’s a chance for the whole family to unwind together and it’s a fantastic low-cost activity for times where everyone feels a bit burnt out (and who doesn’t in December?).
Just bear in mind that Christmas films which focus on absurdly happy families might be upsetting for foster children. So, perhaps choose something more generic or, even better, ask your child what they’d like to watch.
Get outside for a refreshing winter’s walk
Heading out for a brisk winter’s walk isn’t just great for bonding, but it also improves our physical and mental wellbeing.
In a recent paper, researchers pooled information from 49 studies from around the world and found that people who do more physical activity are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. What’s more, exercise gives children a sense of purpose and adventure, bolstering their self-esteem and enthusiasm.
Plus, walking is the perfect antidote to arguments. When you’re stuck inside in close quarters, tensions are bound to rise (we’ve probably all experienced it during the COVID-19 lockdowns) and getting outside offers a much-needed change of scenery.
We’re here to help over the festive period
Emotions run high at Christmas, and it can be difficult for foster families to cope. However, you’re not alone. The team at Olive Branch Fostering are here to help you every step of the way. We offer plenty of support for carers, including 24/7 telephone assistance, home visits, respite care, social events and support groups.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop us an email – we’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Alternatively, give us a call on 01706 558910.