The holiday season is upon us many families are planning, decorating and celebrating. While this is a joyous time of year for lots of us, for foster youth, this can be the most difficult time of year. Many are missing their family and friends and traditions which can be extremely difficult. These 5 tips from Alternative Family Services can guide a foster parent or family in navigating the holiday season with their foster youth. (Read the full article here).
Do: Talk to Foster Youth Before the Holidays Kick Off
Before anything kicks off, it can be incredibly beneficial to let them know what is about to happen and who they will meet. As a Resource Parent, while you may be used to the hustle and bustle of a relative’s house or the behavior of a loved one, such a situation will all be new and overwhelming for a foster youth. Beforehand, let them precisely what to expect and what will likely happen, so they are not caught off guard.
Similarly, be sure others you’re celebrating the holidays with know about the foster youth and are not surprised by their presence. Recruit those you’re spending the holidays with to do what they can to welcome and include foster youth as much as possible in the festivities.
Don’t: Ignore Their Feelings or Mental Health
As we’ve already established, the holiday season can be a conflicting and emotionally draining time for some foster youth. It may bring out new feelings or behaviors, or exacerbate existing ones. Understand that foster youth often have a lot to process during the holidays – and year-round. Respect their mental health, know that their feelings about the holidays can be complex, and provide help is asked for or required.
Do: Incorporate Their Traditions and Customs
No two families celebrate the holidays in the exact same way. While certain traditions are certainly more common than others, everyone has their own unique and satisfying spin to the holidays – and the families foster youth come from are no different.
When possible, incorporate as many of their traditions and customs into your celebrations. Even adding in little things can make foster youth feel more comfortable and accepted in your holidays. Also respect that foster youth may celebrate holidays you don’t, and vice versa.
Don’t: Make Them Feel Unequal or Unwelcome
During the holiday season, many foster youth feel like outsiders or a burden. For example, Daniel Knapp noted that although his foster family was warm and welcoming, he recalls feeling like a burden and dwelling on minute differences – like how other family members received more presents than he did some years.
“We remember what it used to be like and know how it is now. For most kids all they want it to go home and the holidays is a painful reminder that going home is not an option. It’s especially hard when everyone else is shopping for their moms, dads and siblings and you can’t because you are not allowed to see them,” notes Krista, a former foster youth.
For Resource Parents, try to take steps big and small to ensure foster youth are completely and totally welcome as an equal part of the family, while always being sure to respect their emotions no matter what.
Do: Include Their Wider Community
For many, the holidays don’t stop and end at family. Often, a wider community will be on hand in festivities and in making the holiday what it is.
Resource Parents should aim to include this wider community whenever possible within holiday celebrations. In addition, when permissible, allow foster youth to spend time with relatives and close friends.