An Extra Place at the Table

Posted 8 December 2020

It’s been suggested that in the future, ‘2020’ should become a synonym for any and every mess-up. And we can see why. However before you practise phrases like, ‘I’ve had a right 2020 of a day’ or ‘I completely 2020-ed constructing that Ikea bookcase’, remember the year is not over yet. Christmas is coming. Yes, like a set of twinkly fairy lights at the end of a long lockdown tunnel, Christmas is ready to get us feeling festive. Ho Ho Ho.

While Christmas may cheer us though, the same might not be true for foster children. If they have unhappy memories of the season, the ghost of Christmas past may well be ready to ruin the present. So for those of you setting an extra place at your table this year, how can you help the children in your care to navigate all the turkey and trimmings?

The secret is to start early this year – and not just because it’s 2020!

For foster children, Christmas can bring a whole range of emotions and anxieties. Your child may have memories of anger, abuse or alcoholism worsening at Christmas. They may be used to their presents being sold, or no presents at all. Equally, they may have happy memories and miss their birth families. To try and cope they may revert to previous negative behaviours, or be more aggressive or quieter than usual.

Take time to talk openly about the C word. Finding out how your child is feeling and what their past experiences have been can help you to both feel more comfortable in advance of the event. Tell them too about what to expect in your home. The more prepared your child is, the better their chance of coping positively. Ask them what they would like to do and if possible, add one of their traditions to your festive schedule.

We’ll all be more socially restricted this year, but although you will know anyone who does visit, the child in your care may not. Showing them photos of these strangers can stop them seeming quite so strange when they arrive. It can also be a good idea to brief your visitors on what to expect from your child – and to remind them to bring a suitable present!

Food and drink play a big part at Christmas, but your festive Baileys might bring back memories of adults drinking far too much alcohol. Again, taking time to explain things will help. For children nervous of trying different foods, enlist their help with shopping or meal preparation so they can feel a sense of achievement when the family tuck in.

Finally, allow both you and your foster child some quiet time in a safe space. The whole Christmas experience might feel overwhelming for both of you at one point, so let everyone take a break. Make sure that your support network is up for Christmas duty and don’t feel guilty if not everything goes to plan. The Christmas police won’t mind – because they don’t exist.

For cared for children, Christmas can feel like watching in on someone else’s celebrations. The season may bring stress, but it can also help you give your foster child great memories for the future. All because you set an extra place at the table.