Fostering a Child During the Holidays

Tish Gallegos Foster Care

Now that it’s almost winter, the holidays are upon us. There’s Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Years. It’s a pretty stressful time, but it’s the most exciting and happy time of year. Or is it?

The fact is, the holidays can be a tough time for foster kids. While it might be a normal year for you, it’s a time when children are most likely to want to return to their biological families, no matter how good a home you’re providing for them.

Every child in a foster home has been through situations that are completely unique to them, so not everything below will apply to every child. Still, we think it’s important to be aware of what could happen when you’re fostering a child during the holidays, as well as some ways to make them as comfortable as possible.

Tell The Child About Your Family’s Tradition

Your foster child may be coming from a home that doesn’t celebrate the same holiday as you. Maybe it’s because they had no religious affiliation, or perhaps they are of a different religion. It’s also possible that the many activities you associate with the holidays — going out shopping, cooking large meals, putting up trees and lights — simply weren’t a financial option for the biological family of your foster child.

What we’re saying is, your traditions might be very foreign to your foster child. And that’s okay! Just remember: as you’re engaging in these traditions with the rest of your family, make sure to not only include the child your fostering but also explain why they’re happening and how they got started. Chances are they’ll never forget!

Invite Them To Share Their Own Traditions

Just because a child is in foster care doesn’t mean that they never had any good times with their parent or parents. They might have very specific traditions that they enjoyed, such a reading a particular story, getting a particular candy, or opening a single present on Christmas Eve instead of waiting until Christmas morning. If at all possible, see if you can change up your traditioning in order to accommodate those of your foster kid.

At the same time, the child who you’re fostering during the holidays might have been raised with traditions that are of a religion different from yours. Allow the child to tell you about them, and go online with them to learn even more about how they celebrate. It might open your eyes to holidays you’re not familiar with.

Read A Book, Watch A Movie

There are so many classic holiday stories out there, and while your foster child might be partly familiar, it’s possible that no one has ever sat them down and read a book about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa to them. While it’s always a good idea to read books to young children, you need to be aware that they might have missed out on even the most famous if they weren’t allowed books in their previous home.

Similarly, there are so many great holiday films, whether it’s an old classic like Miracle on 34th Street or a modern classic like Elf. Of course, there are also oft-repeated television programs such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Everyone knows these holiday favorites…but foster kids might not. Such movies are cultural milestones, yet your foster child might not be familiar. It’s not necessarily important for them to see them intellectually, but it can help them socially when kids are talking about their favorite holiday shows at school.

Be Prepared For Food Strangeness

Imagine coming from a home in which the only food you ever ate came from a box or a can, and that’s when there was any food at all. Now imagine that, during your first year as a foster child, you’re experiencing a traditional American Thanksgiving.

As we discussed in this article, foster kids can have a strange relationship with food. For some of them, the opportunity to eat as much as they want has never been an option. They might gorge themselves, and you might find them hoarding it later. On the other hand, the food might be so different from what they’re used to that they might not have a taste for it. Try to be as understanding as possible in every situation.

Include Them In Meal Preparation

One way to really include your foster kid is to invite them to help you cook the big meal. Meal preparation is a skill everyone should know and can aid them throughout their life, and being a part of a big meal shows that you trust them.

Even more importantly, this can be a way for a foster child to say thank you for the home you’re providing. When they help, they are doing what they can to provide for you, even if they only use the can opener on the green beans and toss them in a pot.

Don’t Forget the Gifts

Of course, you’ll want to include your foster child in the gift exchanging. It’s going to be tempting to absolutely shower them with gifts, but also remember that gifts from the heart are important. Perhaps you could put together a book of pictures of your time together so far. Encourage the rest of your family and the foster child to make gifts that are personal.   

Involve Birth Parents

Talk to your foster care agency worker at Contra Costa County and get their advice on involving the birth parents. You might have them over, go out to eat with them, or meet in a park. It’s also possible that the birth parent(s) will take the child back for a short time to spend with their blood relatives during the holiday. Again, the person who placed the foster child with you knows all parties and has a good idea of what would be best for each of them.

Whether or not the child will spend any time with their biological family, it’s still important to involve them in some way. Help the child make presents for their family, and assist them with letter writing if needed. If a child is on track to return to their parent, it’s important to keep those lines of communication open.

Simplify Things

We all know how crazy things get around the holidays, and if you’re accustomed to attending every party and heading up every church event, it might be a good time to try to simplify your life a bit more. While the rest of the family might be accustomed to the “go go go” mentality during the holidays, your foster child probably isn’t. We’re certainly not telling you to give up all of your volunteering and partying, but consider spending a bit more time at home to ensure that your foster child is coping well. That brings us to…

Watch for Sadness and Regression

The holidays can be a sad time for people in general. Some people are alone and yearn to be with others, with another person might be “celebrating” their first holiday after the death of a loved one. When it comes to children in foster care, you can probably guess that they’re missing their blood parents, even if life with them wasn’t always great. While other families are coming together, they’re often reminded of just how broken their own family is.

This can manifest itself in many ways, the two most common being depression and rebelliousness. Even if you’ve had a child in your care for many months, they might revert to the way they acted when you first met them. Watch for signs of sadness, and try to be understanding of rebelliousness. If you know it’s coming, it’s much easier to talk about it when it happens.

Foster care isn’t always easy, but with a little heads-up we bet you’ll have a great time with your foster kid this holiday season. Happy holidays!