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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Focus on Fostering: "Happy" Holidays?

Not everybody loves holidays!
For experienced foster parents the approach of Thanksgiving often starts a dreaded pit in the stomach and a rush of house preparations, increased structure, and advance planning of a kind Martha Stewart can't imagine. The stretch of Thanksgiving, then Christmas or Hannukah, then New Year's all too often becomes a perfect storm of potential disaster for foster children.

Everywhere they look foster children are confronted by visions of family: family events, family cards, family traditions, family relatives, etc etc.  For a child or teen who may have been abandoned, or mistreated, or neglected, or traumatized by family, or even "just" separated from theirs, these happy, wholesome "family" images provide a range of pain, anger, and an inner battle of wishful thinking and hopelessness.   When "family" is more of a "f" word than the usual ones, trying to survive emotionally during the extended rolling holiday season is an almost impossible challenge.

So... they act out. Often kids in care will find it difficult to meet normal expectations during this season, much less "best behavior" events. They may backslide or raise the rate of button-pushing or explode so often you feel the entire house is ready to implode.
A few hints that might help a bit:
1- Respect the realities of their feelings.
2- Limit extras as much as possible.
3- Pick what is most important to keep and let the rest be optional or maybe even dropped.
4- Be sure to keep communication open and flowing.. check in frequently with your kids, keep your eyes open for warning signs.
5- Plan safety valve opportunities for the kiddos to escape from high stress situations and gatherings.
6- Respond quickly if they start showing the strain... get them out of the situation before it gets worse.
Use those safety valves.
7. Don't take it personally!

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