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Help for the Holidays—Supporting adoptive and foster children during the holiday season ...


Tori is ten years old. She entered foster care for the first time ten months ago. Tori’s biological father died due to a drug overdose, and Tori and her mother were periodically homeless due to her mother’s drug use. Two months ago, Tori’s visitation with her mother was terminated due to her mother’s chronic drug use resulting in her incarceration. Tori also has two older brothers, ages 14 and 16, but she has no contact with them as they are in long-term residential facilities in another state. Despite her traumatic past, Tori has mostly been a compliant child since she’s been in her foster home.


As the Thanksgiving season approached, Tori’s foster parents noticed her becoming more and more isolated from the family. Normally a soft-spoken but outgoing child, she began to physically withdraw from the family when they would do things together like family game night or watching a movie together. This behavior was uncharacteristic for Tori since she typically was an eager participant in family activities.


As Christmastime drew nearer, Tori became even more withdrawn, spending a lot more time in her room. She became a picky eater, sometimes not wanting to eat lunch or dinner at all. “I’m just not hungry” was her common response. She became resistant to participating in seasonal activities such as the extended family Christmas party and the kids’ Christmas pageant at church. Her refusal to participate in the latter activity was puzzling to her foster parents, as Tori always loved singing and acting in plays at church and school. Now, as Christmas is only a week away, Tori is shut down. She is often tearful, is having trouble sleeping, and is uncharacteristically irritable.


Tori’s story is not uncommon for foster children during the Christmas holidays. Although many foster kids breeze through the holidays with no problems, many of them also struggle. Here are some approaches to helping children like Tori:

  • It all begins with awareness—just be aware that “holidays = happiness” may not be a part of your child’s thought and emotional process.

  • Some foster children feel—and express—guilt over the holidays because they feel they should be happy. Talk this through with them to help normalize their feelings. “How you feel is how you feel, and I/we are here for you.

  • ”Listen, listen, listen—and don’t try to force conversations. Kids’ thoughts and feelings about their loss and grief will surface at times when you least expect them to. Encourage, but do not press a child to share what she’s feeling.

  • During the holiday season, try to keep the same morning routine that the child had during the regular school week.

  • Try to have one-on-one connection times where the child has your undivided attention—even if it’s just sitting quietly with them.

  • If at all possible, include any members of the child’s immediate or extended family to join you for a holiday event.

  • Find out from your child if there are any Christmas traditions in your child’s biological family. If so, ask your child if she/he would like to observe them. Doing so may help the child to connect with her/his loss in a positive way.

  • Don’t overboard with the holiday hoopla. You can keep things low-key for a child like Tori and still have a meaningful Christmas.

  • For a child such as Tori, be sure a closely monitor her behaviors such as isolating and not wanting to eat.

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