A sense of belonging…the best gift of all

While the holidays are merry for many, children within the child welfare system may not feel quite the same way. In fact, some may feel acute grief and loss.

Many of the images we see during the holiday season are of family, friends and being home. Imagine not being able to get home to your family and friends? Children within the child welfare system typically face circumstances outside their control, circumstances that separate them from family, friends and home.

Foster parents around the world try to create a family atmosphere with gifts and food. Too often, however, the child or children may reject this sincere attempt because it is not “their home.” After all, having a sense of belonging is at the core of being a family. Many say they miss their families. That hopeless feeling is difficult to handle and is only amplified by the holidays, so heavily focused on family and belonging. For these children, the feeling of belonging is lost—and they cannot do anything to change the circumstances.

Making a child feel as if they belong will go a long way in helping overcome feelings of grief and loss. Because this is a time of heightened awareness of family, it is important that additional efforts be made so that the child or children feel as they belong. Here are a few strategies to help in that effort:

Let the child have a voice in the holiday festivities. Listening to children is empowering for the children and will help show them that they are part of the traditions for the family.

  •  Allow children to talk about their feelings. When people feel as though they cannot express their grief, the ability to cope can become increasingly difficult, a situation that can lead to outbursts and more pain.
  •  Laughter can be the best medicine. Feelings like grief and loss are heavy burdens. Create some levity and have fun. There are many community-based events to attend at this time of year. Doing crafts and even dancing to seasonal music can help distract a troubled mind for a period of time.
  •  Listen. Many times, foster families want to talk about deep emotional subjects with a child when a child may not be ready to do so. As children start to feel they belong, they can open up, which may lead a willingness to discuss feelings. If the child feels heard and supported, it is more likely he or she will continue to bond with the family. This may be the greatest gift the child receives this holiday season.

The only world we know is the one viewed through our eyes; for that reason, the world often appears quite different to each individual. A foster child may dread the holiday season because of feelings of grief and loss. Many don’t want seasonal music, the latest toy or special meals. Many want nothing more than belonging.

What are you doing this year to help your family and friends know they belong?

Michael J. Laird
Diakon Adoption & Foster Care – Mechanicsburg Office

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