By Jenna Christie-Tabron, Free Arts Clinical Director
For many families the holidays are a time of joy, celebration and togetherness. However, for the thousands of children in Arizona’s foster care system, this time of year can bring feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness and confusion.
Valley nonprofit Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona uses the arts to work with children who have experienced ongoing trauma and toxic stress putting them at a greater risk for long-term outcomes including substance abuse, prolonged poverty, and early death.
Here are nine ways to support foster children this holiday season:
- Encourage healthy expression of feelings
Take time to speak with children about how they are feeling. Some children may want to discuss their emotions, whereas others may not. It is important to let them know that they are supported during this time.
- Give space for grief
Grief can occur as a response to multiple forms of loss. This can include loss of family, traditions, or anticipated events. Allow children to express their sadness and remember that it is not an indication of unappreciation for your role in their life.
- Prepare children and other family members ahead of time for the holidays
It may be helpful to introduce children to other family members ahead of the holidays to ease feelings of anxiety. Additionally, it will help children feel included and part of the family.
- Secure extra presents
It can be heartbreaking when visiting friends and family members bring gifts for the household but accidentally exclude new additions to the family. Therefore, it can be helpful to have a few extra gifts on standby just in case.
- Maintain Confidentiality
No-one likes to be the topic of discussion at the dinner table, especially when the topic involves details of abuse and/or trauma. Though others may be curious about a child’s experiences, remember your trust with them should be paramount.
- Plan activities for the family
Planning activities together as a family will help a child feel comfortable and included. It may also reduce feelings of loneliness that may arise.
- Explain religious or cultural traditions
Some children may be unfamiliar with different religious or cultural traditions; therefore, it is important to explain what the holidays mean in your household. Doing so will always help them to understand familial expectations.
- Integrate or establish traditions
If a child comes from a family with established traditions, it may be beneficial to incorporate their traditions into your family’s celebrations. If they do not have any established traditions, this can be a great opportunity to establish one together.
- If possible, connect with the child’s loved ones
In some circumstances, contact with the child’s birth family is not possible or healthy for the child. If the relevant agency permits, the child may benefit from connecting with their loved ones during this time. However, it is always advised to seek guidance from the child’s case manager prior to contacting the birth family.
It is also common for children to exhibit behavioral changes as they work through some of the thoughts and emotions that arise during the holidays. Watch for changes in sleeping or eating patterns, displays of anger or rejection, or even the desire to run away. It can be hard for adults or family members to understand, however, research shows that children build resilience when they engage in positive experiences and have support from caring adults.
Jenna Christie-Tabron is the Free Arts Clinical Director and mental health clinician who has dedicated her career to helping children and adolescents achieve their highest potential. She has worked in school, psychiatric, and judicial settings throughout the United States and The Bahamas. At Free Arts, she works to help the organization maintain a trauma-informed framework for their art-based programs that are designed to build resilience in children, teens, and young adults who experienced trauma.