For most of us, festive season (in any religion and culture) is a time of coming together and joy. Here in Australia, as we gear up for the largest annual family gatherings around Christmas, there is at times a surreal frenzy around shopping for pressies and food, dressing up our houses, preparing for holidays away and planning around Christmas day gatherings. Generally, it is a day with a lot of build-up. Hopefully the crescendo events are enjoyable for all but they do tend to generate stress at times.
For children in care this can be a period with mixed emotions. Some children who have been in care and with the same family (whether foster or relative/kin) most of their lives are most likely very comfortable with your traditions and the people you spend time with.
For other children who have either come into care at a later age or who have moved around whilst in care, this is a more complicated time. They are potentially feeling a mix of emotions and this may play out in their behaviour.
Whatever the situation in your house is, it is likely to mean the children are home more, there is less routine and whilst this can be good for many, it is good to reflect on anything you may need to consider to ensure this is a good time for all.
My top tips for carers during festive seasons:
- Tune in to where your child is at. Hopefully you can already pick up when they are out of sorts or in need of additional connection. Being aware is really our best strategy so we can know to provide for their needs in the mix of a busy season. Its also ok to check in directly. When our routine is thrown out, I know CC will struggle more because there is much less consistency in our days. We talk openly that this is trickier for her than the day to day routine of school weeks and this helps us prepare.
- Ensure any child/ren in your care will be received positively by your extended family. I have heard of an awful situation recently where a child in care who is relatively well cared for if you ignore the fact that their own extended family are not welcoming of the child. This is not ok. If you have this in your family, please do have preparatory conversations with any family members to ensure children in your care are welcomed and supported. If you have identified family that cannot get on board, then I really hope you consider the impact of this on a child in your care and find a way to tend to this issue.
- Find ways to celebrate with their family during the festive season/s and cultural significant times. This is important for both the child and their family – regardless of if we are talking about mum, dad, siblings, grandparents or extended family. Culturally significant events are a difficult time for any family who has a child in care. You should already be having conversations with your agency or directly with family about holiday plans if you are reading this when I wrote it. I know of carers who are looking after siblings who organise a Christmas picnic with all the children and parents. We go to CC’s family for a family lunch the week before Christmas and this is our shared tradition now. You will know what works best for children in your care, just ensure you are supportive and encouraging of this connection during festive periods.
- Ask the child/ren in your care what it is they need from you during this period if s/he or they have not been with you for a long time. Ask them what they like, what they don’t like and how you can ensure they feel safe during the festive season. Acknowledge this may be a difficult time and give them permission to be vulnerable around this. Invite them to be part of planning as this may help them feel more involved.