Christmas, that ‘wonderful time of the year’ – I wonder!
We are getting quite close now to the school holidays and children and young people building up for Christmas and so some of what I say in this article may ring true, in particular perhaps to foster carers who are coming up to their first Christmas with the children and young people in their care.
Christmas can be a time of incredible stress to families, adults and children alike and particularly perhaps for the children and young people that you care for.
School aged children have their entire routine turned on its head. Days are spent making gifts and crafts, cards for parents (potential trigger there), practising songs, carols and learning of words for the inevitable school play. Afternoons sitting, in some cases on the floor in the hall, watching other children practice their Christmas extravaganza. Christmas means different things to different people and of course not forgetting that not everyone celebrates Christmas.
I would suggest that anyone organising a big event could perhaps find these thoughts and suggestions transferable. Whatever it is that we celebrate it should be an enjoyable occasion for everyone.
Children become tired and sometimes stressed as a result of the lack of routine and the added pressures, perhaps of performing. Parents and carers can become stressed with the planning of Christmas, or indeed other family affairs, weddings, birthdays etc. Stress can come from many sources, the sheer amount to do, the cost, the planning, or simply the wanting to get it right and, for foster carers specifically, giving the children and young people in their care something positive to remember and to build their traditions on.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year proving we take the time to stand back and see it from everyone’s perspective. Is everyone coping with the excitement, planning, stress, performing, listening, sitting and waiting for the big event?
My Christmas Experiences
Christmas evokes all kinds of feelings in people and usually very different feelings to one and another. My memories of Christmas as a child, and growing up at home, were good, special family time, including grand-parents, Christmas meal, sometimes a walk after lunch. Over the years of course, the family became smaller as grand parents passed away. Then I had my own children and the big Christmas get-togethers came back.
And now with my grandchildren, most of those traditions still continue and we all know what to expect, down to the magic glitter from the fire place to the stockings and the sooty thumb print on the empty plate where the mince pie was, the half eaten carrots because the reindeer were so full they might not be able to fly. The thing is that my family traditions may be very different from yours, they have evolved and built up in my life-time and in my family.
Family experiences, routines, values, expectations and traditions are part of our heritage, our roots, our history, So what happens when it is all new?
I remember one year that we went away for Christmas, just the nuclear family, it was so strange, it was like something was missing. There was a tree, there was a Christmas lunch, there was snow BUT there was a big gap and it was decided that we would stay home for Christmas in future. I am not sure that there was any ‘thing’ missing, just all of the traditions that we were used to were not there!
So how do we make it ‘ a wonderful time of the year’ for the children and young people that we care for?
How do we know what is normal for them? How do we know what are good memories for them? How do we know what their traditions have been?
Christmas activities are not likely to be part of their life-story, though talking about people in their genogram may give some clues. However a word of caution; be aware of the feelings that Christmas time can evoke in you, perhaps the change in your family structure, the loss of close relatives and friends. Some memories are bad, some memories are sad.
We know as adults that not all memories are good and yet when I think of my dad wanting streamers and paper chains all over the house, and mum restricting them to the hall it still makes me smile.
So close as it is to Christmas now, it would be an idea to talk to the child/young person’s social worker, talk to your supervisory social worker, talk to the family if there is contact, talk to previous foster carers. Find out what you can about previous family events, what was good, what worked, what significant events happened. What triggers do you need to be aware of.
Sad Memories of Christmas
Most importantly talk to the child/young person, sometimes surprises can be scary, sometimes they evoke painful memories, sometimes they can transport a child/young person back to a very painful time in their life. We need to be careful that our enthusiasm does not cause pain, it is the last thing that any of us would want to do.
So, let the child/young person be part of the planning, help with the cooking, decorating the tree, perhaps decorating their room, during the making of things children and young people will often mention events that have happened in the past, sometimes good and sometimes not so good and we need to hear these thoughts and concerns as they are not always directed at anyone, it can almost be as if the individual is going through something in their mind, but out-loud.
Taking a step back
Acknowledge that preparing for and planning for any event is potentially stressful and tiring; that doing things together makes it all more fun and also gives ownership to everyone.
- Remember that your own traditions, experiences and memories of special family times could be completely alien to the children and young people that you care for.
- Remember that both pressure and excitement can be exhausting for everyone.
- Remember that no one copes well if they are exhausted.
- Remember that surprises even good ones, can be scary and can trigger previous negative experiences.
Most of all remember to have the most amazing time as a family and begin to build happy memories and traditions for the children and young people that they can carry with them through life. The feeling of involvement, love and care is so much more valuable that the gift.
‘Have a very Happy Christmas’
Cathy Mayes Fostering Trainer Facilitator