Christmas time when glad tidings of joy should abound, and love be with us all

‘Christmas time when glad tidings of joy should abound, and love be with us all’ blog article was written by Noel Macnamara, Deputy Director Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care (CETC), a division of Australian Childhood Foundation. This blog article was originally published on the CETC website. 

Christmas, for many, is an exciting time of year. However, for some children and young people, particularly those who have experienced attachment difficulties, trauma and/or adverse childhood events, Christmas can be challenging.

Often, celebration times mean children and young people reflect on memories or past experiences, and that can evoke mixed feelings, from deep sadness to strong anger.

All carers (Foster, Kinship and Residential) want the children they care for to have the best time at Christmas; after all, it is a time for children to feel special. However, the reality can be very different. Being sensitive and understanding of children and young people’s needs and feelings and embracing the spirit of the season can be a tricky balancing act.

Behavioural changes

Changes in behaviour can come from reflecting on happy memories with their birth family, siblings, or previous carers and how they are unable to currently see them. That sense of loss and other mixed feelings can be expressed through acts of aggression, anger, or a reluctance to participate. For some older children running away may be how they feel.

These changes are quite common, and many carers talk about these difficulties at Christmas.

How could you handle this:

  1. Look for the message behind the behaviour. Remain curious.
  2. If safe to do so, ensure that children and young people have contact with those that they feel close to.
  3. Talk to the children and young people in your care about the traditions they did with their birth family or previous carers.


Routine at Christmas

We know that routine and consistency are extremely helpful for children and young people. It is also helpful for the adults. However, routine can get lost at Christmas time. Carers take Christmas holidays, school closes, and there can be lots of friends and family visiting.

Remember, routine and structure can be comforting and help children to feel safe. There is safety in knowing what is coming next and what happens each day. Inevitable routine change can cause a child or young person to feel overwhelmed and anxious about what is happening.

How could you handle this: Whenever possible, minimise changes to your routine. We understand that at this time of year, it is hard to maintain a strict routine but talking to children in advance of any changes or events planned can really help to reduce behaviours that challenge.


Different or no faiths at Christmas

A common issue for some carers is how can we celebrate Christmas if the child or young person they are looking after might not celebrate Christmas or may do it in a different way. It can be difficult to navigate, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

How could you handle this: Our advice is to talk to your foster/kinship care worker or therapeutic specialist; they can help you reach a compromise that would suit your home. It can be a really lovely bonding experience to ask children and young people to share their customs and celebrations. Whatever the plan, the central issue must be that children and young people feel included and welcomed.


Other issues

Check how the children in your care think and feel about Father Christmas, whether they believe in him or have other traditions about how presents arrive. Don’t force Christmas on children and young people. It is really important that they feel included on the day but recognise they might not want to celebrate or be enthusiastic, and that is okay.

Talk with your extended family and close friends about the needs of the child or young person in your care. Preparing others about any changes or compromises you have made to make the child or young person feel safe and included can help the joint celebration run more smoothly.



Make sure that you take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup! By taking time to look after yourself, you will be able to better support the children and young people at this time. Practicing regular self-care, especially in times of stress, reduces the negative impact of stress and how it affects your mind and body.

Practicing self-care also allows you to function at full capacity. Self-care is individual, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Consider what makes you feel better and explore how this may be implemented into your regular routine.

Visit the CETC webite

The CETC mobilises knowledge about “what works” in out-of-home care to better resource carers and organisations supporting children and young people living in all forms of care, including foster and kinship care, residential care, and secure care. Visit the CETC website to access blogs, resources, the latest research, training opportunities and more.