The holidays are all about comfort, family, and making memories filled with happiness and joy. Unfortunately for some children in foster care, the holidays can be filled with instability, separation from their families, and wrestling with the emotions that come from these hardships, including sadness and loneliness. Empathy is key for making sure the foster children in your life feel what we all deserve to around the holidays: safe, appreciated, and loved. Here are some ways you can ease the anxieties of the holidays with the foster children in your life.
Talk to them
Simply being a listening ear for a foster child to confide in during the holidays is key. Let them know that they can share any feelings they may have about the season, good or bad, with you. Validate their feelings and let them know how they feel is perfectly ok, even if their feelings conflict. Maybe they are excited for Santa’s impending visit but sad that they are missing time with their biological family. Reassuring them that it is ok and normal to have conflicting feelings this time of year is one of the best ways to help them through the confusing emotions they may be having.
Learn from them
While their current foster home will certainly have its own traditions and celebrations, ask the foster youth in your life about their past traditions! Take the time to learn what the holidays mean to them and encourage the child’s own celebrations and beliefs. Ask them what they would do to celebrate, what foods would they traditionally eat, and who in their lives they would normally see. If acceptable, see if they would be willing to participate in these traditions with you or incorporate them with yours or their foster family. Helping children maintain strong ties to their cultural values is crucial for their sense of identity.
Despite doing all that you can to reassure the foster children in your life, they may still withdraw or change their behaviors during the holidays. It is normal for them to do so as they navigate powerful emotions that can change at a moment’s notice. Allow the foster youth in your life to have some downtime during the holidays so they can reflect and recharge themselves. Don’t take it personally if you do experience some withdrawal or guarded behavior. Just remind them that you are there to support, listen, and celebrate with them at their own pace.