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How to Deal with Difficult Family Dynamics at Christmas as a Foster Carer

Navigate the holidays with our latest blog on managing difficult family dynamics during Christmas. Discover helpful insights for a smoother season.

December 21 2023 - 5 min read

foster parents at chirstmas

Creating a safe and supportive environment for a foster child at Christmas can be a challenge if they have experienced difficult family dynamics.

Difficult family dynamics at Christmas can be harder than other times of the year, as your foster child might not have experienced a loving and safe festive season due to previous trauma, neglect, or loss. 

In this article, we’ll look at foster care family dynamics at Christmas, whether you’re fostering sibling groups or a single child, and provide you with some helpful strategies that you can use to help make Christmas special and enjoyable for everyone.

What are Difficult Family Dynamics? 

When you welcome a foster child into your home, it’s quite normal for them to change your family dynamics. While the changes can be truly positive, each foster child may bring challenges to your family dynamics. This can be especially true if you have birth children of your own. Sometimes, your children may find it tricky sharing their belongings, their space, or even you. Additionally, they might find it hard and upsetting when their foster sibling has to leave. 

Even when you prepare your immediate and extended family for your foster child’s arrival, it’s natural that sibling rivalry will always exist, whether it’s a biological or foster families. Everyone in the family needs to feel like they belong, they matter, and that they are significant. 

There is also the matter of dealing with your foster child’s birth family. At Christmas especially, they might be missing their family more than ever. Setting boundaries with birth families at Christmas is important, as you always need to do what is in the best interests of your foster child. Your team at FCA can help with this, to ensure that you feel supported and your foster child is able to keep in touch with their loved ones if possible.

If your foster child has come from a traumatic background, it’s likely that they might feel unsure and anxious in their new home. But you can help create positive memories for children in foster care by being empathetic, understanding, and compassionate to their needs and feelings.

Foster Care Family Dynamics at Christmas 

Difficult family dynamics can manifest in various ways, including strained relationships, communication barriers, and unresolved conflicts. Foster children may come from backgrounds of neglect, abuse, or instability, which can contribute to complex family dynamics, and these challenges may intensify during Christmas. 

So, why are difficult family dynamics at Christmas especially challenging for foster children?

Christmas is a time of joy, warmth, and family gatherings. However, for foster carers, navigating Christmas with children who have experienced trauma can present unique challenges. Christmas brings with it heightened expectations and a mix of emotions for all children, but especially for children in care. They may be dealing with feelings of loss, grief, anxiety, and an uncertainty about their future. 

As a foster carer, it’s important to approach the festive season with sensitivity, empathy, and an understanding of the challenges your foster child might be dealing with.

foster family hugging

Real Life Story of Overcoming Difficult Family Dynamics at Christmas

FCA foster carer Nina shares her experience of a foster carer Christmas, and how she went about supporting her foster child through difficult family dynamics at Christmas.

“My birth child who is 15 years old has been very much involved in the fostering process. This Christmas, he has taken on the role as big brother. When I started this process, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to get out of my old job and start something that made a difference to a young person’s life.”

While Nina’s current foster child was only meant to be with them temporarily, he ended up staying with them long term, and the whole family couldn’t be happier. “We are very much a team in our family. It is not just me that does everything, we all work together. Even my own birth child who is 15 years old has been very much involved. This Christmas, he has taken on the role as big brother and has been doing ‘Elf on the Shelf’ which is lovely to see.”

As for changing the family dynamics, Nina says that her birth child and foster child’s relationship has blossomed into a typical sibling relationship. “They bicker, and they make up. I think this fostering experience has taught my birth son a lot because he now realises how privileged he is. From holidays abroad every year, always getting what he wanted at Christmas and to then welcome a child into his home that had nothing. I think it was a good learning experience for him that not every child is just as privileged.”

One of the things Nina loves the most about fostering, especially at Christmas, is being able to make a positive difference and create happy memories that they can all cherish forever. From using her fostering allowance to help buy gifts and pay for special festive outings, to seeing the relationship between the siblings grow and flourish.

4 Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Family Dynamics at Christmas

Talking to Your Foster Child About Their Family Dynamics

Creating a safe and supportive environment for your foster child by encouraging them to talk about their family dynamics can help create a secure space for them. Gently ask them to talk with you, if they want to, about their Christmas experiences at home and if there is anything they might be worried or anxious about spending Christmas away from them. Encourage them to express their feelings, thoughts, and concerns about the destive season, and be patient and empathetic. By allowing them to share their experiences, you can help them process any emotions that may arise.

Create New Traditions

Whether it’s decorating the tree together, going present shopping for their birth family, or bringing something new into your traditional Christmas dinner, establishing new, positive traditions that focus on connection and joy can help your foster child deal with difficult family dynamics. Involve them in the decision-making process to help shift the focus from challenging dynamics to new positive memories. Consider appropriate gift ideas for foster children to help them feel loved and included in your family.

Provide Routine and Structure

Stability is important for every child, and with the festive chaos that Christmas can bring, it’s even more vital to a foster child who might be feeling uneasy. Try and maintain a sense of stability by sticking with your regular routine, especially if it is what your child is used to. Consistency can offer a sense of security and help your foster child navigate the Christmas festivities with predictability.

Manage Expectations

When it comes to Christmas, it’s easy for expectations to be high. You want to have the perfect Christmas, good behaviour, create precious memories, but it’s important to set realistic expectations. Understand that not every moment will be perfect and that your plans might go out the window. That’s OK. Instead, try and focus on creating an understanding and supportive environment rather than living up to the perfect Hallmark holiday.

Supporting a Foster Child at Christmas

Supporting a Foster Child Through Difficult Family Dynamics at Christmas with FCA 

Dealing with difficult family dynamics at Christmas as a foster carer requires a balance of empathy, communication, and planning. By understanding the challenges your foster child may be facing, and implementing thoughtful strategies, you can create a safe, stable, and nurturing environment that will make your foster child feel loved and supported.

But remember, you never have to go through this journey alone. Reach out to your support network for help and advice, and speak to us whenever you need to. We can help 24/7 as you navigate this journey and provide guidance and resources if you are struggling with difficult family dynamics at Christmas, or any time of the year.