Being a foster parent can bring about a unique set of responsibilities in ensuring that a foster child experiences a pleasant and enjoyable holiday season this year. Of course, that child or teen may often be dealing with emotionally stressful circumstances on a personal level. This is a chance to give them a sense of comfort and belonging at this time of the year.
Here is some advice on how to help a foster child feel welcome, while being sure that they have a clear understanding of what they can expect with your holiday traditions.
Share the holidays celebrated in your home
Explain ahead of time to the foster child what holidays will be celebrated in your home. Share the meaning behind certain religious activities and customs with them, so that they will have a better understanding if they want to participate. This is also an opportunity to learn more about the religious practices or holidays the teen has celebrated in the past or been exposed to. Try to incorporate some traditions with yours so that the foster child feels more at ease in their new surroundings. After all, the child may have a holiday tradition they enjoy that they remember from their past or from a different home.
Introducing them to new family members
A foster parent may also help to increase a child’s comfort by introducing them to family and friends that will be present at holiday events. If an in-person meeting is not possible, show them pictures instead to provide a sense of awareness or utilize today’s technology with video conferencing or Skype. Explain where a holiday celebration will take place and how it will take place to assist them with expectations. This is also a good time to review what manners they should show at such gatherings. Also clarify gift arrangements between yourself and family members so that there is no confusion.
Remember to expect that friends or family members may ask certain questions during the holiday season regarding your foster child. Of course, this may often occur naturally during polite conversation. However, it’s important to remember to protect the teen’s confidentiality. It might be best to anticipate responses to such questions in advance. See this as an opportunity to enlighten others about how the foster care system works if they are less familiar with it. Ask the child or teen what they would like to share with others about their past during the holiday season.
Possible mental health concerns
For instance, teens may be more likely to turn to destructive behavior as a result of their depression. This may include eating disorders, substance abuse or a number of other struggles. Teens are looking to form their identity as adults at this time and added stress of family struggles may compound this significantly. Younger children may face difficulties in learning in school as a result. They will often ask questions to better understand the situation and may become sad when they watch other parents and children spending time together.
Anxiety may often arise in a foster child as a result of being separated from their parents and during a family-focused time of the year. The child may be ambivalent about their living situation with their caregiver. They may also avoid situations that they feel may cause stress, such as skipping school. He or she may experience difficulties at night, such as insomnia or night terrors. Such kids may have fears of being left alone or may have concerns about illness, injury or death. There may be a love and hate relationship with the foster parent.
Children and teens with low self-esteem may exhibit little confidence and may often be submissive in their actions. He or she may show little emotion and may have feelings of hopelessness about their situations and surroundings. Such children will require attention and care from the foster parent. Their low-self esteem may be a result of consequences of their home life.
Especially during this time of year, a foster parent may wish to consider a support group for them and their foster child that will help to make the holidays run more smoothly. Such groups will help address a number of concerns for parents, such as child attachment issues and appropriate forms of discipline. The parent will also learn when medical interventions should take place, along with how to promote ethnic diversity in the home as need be. Support groups may also cover advocacy for educational resources and different parenting techniques to best suit their child.
Caring for a foster child this holiday season may prove to be a powerful reminder of the holiday spirit of giving to others. This can be a rewarding opportunity to help the child feel loved and accepted during this time of year. The holidays are also an opportunity to reconnect with foster children who have shared homes with foster parents in previous years. A simple phone call or a small gift may make all the difference in helping them to feel appreciated during this season. This is a great opportunity to remind them of holiday memories you recall sharing together fondly as well.
Managing teen depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders can be healed during treatment, whether the adolescent is part of the foster care system or not. Call 866-615-7266 to learn more about the Adolescent Treatment Program with Sovereign Health.
Written by Ryan McMaster, Sovereign Health Group writer