Most of us tend to think of the holidays as a time of joy and celebration. However, for kids in foster care, this time of year often triggers big emotions. We are smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. The changes in routine, school programs, gift exchanges, sweets, endless food buffets, and family gatherings can be enough to make even Martha May Whovier come unhinged. Complicated feelings are inevitable, but having a plan in place can go a long way toward heading off major meltdowns.
Communication is key. If your child is old enough, you should definitely talk with them about their family traditions and find out if they would like to share any of their favorites. Encourage them to help with planning and incorporating familiar traditions into your schedule. It is important to consider the possibility that your child might not be used to much in the way of gifts and festivities, so suddenly experiencing the holidays in such stark contrast can cause intense feelings of confusion and loss. Give your child a heads up about traditions you have followed in the past and be assuring that you would like to include them if they are interested in joining in. But it is important to avoid forcing participation if they are uncomfortable.
Keep it simple. Try to avoid events with lots of people, over-stimulating activities, and events that require you to be on a tight schedule. Instead, plan a few fun activities that offer plenty of flexibility. Some ideas are a popcorn and movie night, fill some to-go cups with hot cocoa and drive around looking at Christmas lights, or decorate some store-bought cookies. The important thing is to keep the activities optional and low-pressure for both you and your child.
Be flexible. Have some ideas and supplies at-the-ready for activities that allow for last-minute modifications. Make sure to offer them on days when everyone is feeling well and in a mind space to get the most out of the experience.
Finally, prepare your heart. Remember that our own feelings of frustration and disappointment are usually due to unmet expectations that are often times unrealistic to begin with. It can be disheartening when we work hard to make the season magical and fun for our kids and they do not respond in the way we would have hoped. It is so important to remember that we should not take this personally. Showing our frustration or making demands will only compound the problem. Try to remember that their reactions are not a reflection of our efforts or their feelings about us, but rather their feelings about what they have been through.
Navigating this time of year can be extremely difficult with kids from hard places, but with a little understanding and preparation, it can be a truly meaningful time of creating wonderful and lasting new memories.