The Holidays and Foster Children

The Holiday season is upon us. Christmas, Hanukah, New Years, Kwanzaa; these are times that can be extremely difficult for many foster children. During this time of holiday cheer, many foster children are faced with the realization that they will not be “home for the holidays,” so to speak, with their biological family members. Along with this, foster children also struggle with trying to remain loyal to their birth parents while enjoying the holiday season with their foster family. Indeed, this can be a very emotionally stressful time for all involved.

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As one who has fostered many children during the holiday time, I have found that it is important to address these issues beforehand. To begin with, foster parents can best help their foster child by spending some time talking about the holiday. Let the foster child know how your family celebrates the holiday, what traditions your family enjoys, and include the child in it. Ask your foster child about some of the traditions that his family had, and try to include some of them into your own home during the holiday.

It is important to keep in mind that many foster children may come from a home where they did not celebrate a particular season, nor have any traditions in their own home. What might be common in your own home may be completely new and even strange to your foster child. This often includes religious meanings for the holiday you celebrate. Again, take time to discuss the meaning about your beliefs to your foster child beforehand.

More than likely, your foster child will have feelings of sadness and grief, as he is separated from his own family during this time of family celebration. You can help him by allowing him to talk about his feelings during the holidays. Ask him how he is doing, and recognize that he may not be happy, nor enjoy this special time. Allow him space to privately grieve, if he needs to, and be prepared if he reverts back to some behavior difficulties he had when he first arrived in your home. You may find that he becomes upset, rebellious, or complains a lot. Along with this, he may simply act younger than he is during this time. After all, he is trying to cope with not being with his own family during this time when families get together. You can also help your foster child by helping him send some cards and/or small gifts and presents to his parents and birth family members.

image by Danilo Rizzuti

If you have family members visit your home, prepare your foster child for this beforehand. Let him know that the normal routine in your home may become a little “crazy” during this time, that it may become loud, and describe some of the “characters” from your own family that may be coming over to visit. Remind him of the importance of using good behavior and manners throughout this period. Along with this, remind your own family members that your foster child is a member of your family, and should be treated as such. This includes gift giving. If your own children should be receiving gifts from some of your family members, your foster child should, as well. Otherwise, your foster child is going to feel left out, and his sadness and grief will only increase.

With a little preparation beforehand from you, this season of joy can be a wonderful time for your foster child, one that may last in his memory for a life time.

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 30 children come through their home.  Dr. DeGarmo wrote his dissertation on fostering, entitled Responding to the Needs of Foster Children in Rural Schools.  He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations.  Dr. DeGarmo is the author of the highly inspirational and bestselling book FosteringLove: One Foster Parent’s Story.  He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both here in the United States, and overseas.  Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted via email, his Facebook page, or at his website.

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