CareSouth understands that Christmas can be a difficult time for vulnerable children and thier families.
Christmas cheer can quickly become Christmas fear for these children who have experienced abuse and neglect or are living in alternative care. While adults are under pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone from the in-laws to the postie, purchase a month’s worth of food to be cooked and eaten in one day, ensure the house is clean, school library books are found and returned and work deadlines are met, our little people are also feeling the strain of the silly season.
Christmas can trigger a multitude of negative emotions for vulnerable children; memories of domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol abuse, a lack of food or gifts and feelings of isolation. Vulnerable children and young people are also more attuned to the emotions and anxieties of their primary caregivers. So when the adults in their life get stressed, so do they, often resulting in a fight or flight response.
According to the Australian Childhood Foundation children and young people who are feeling Christmas fear will struggle with impulse control, have difficulty following instructions and remembering rules, have rapid mood swings, sleep difficulties and may eat excessively or not at all.
So how can we help vulnerable children and young people enjoy what can be a terrifying time of the year? For traumatised children the brain needs the opportunity to heal in safe, nurturing, connected and predictable environments. Care givers can do this by slowing down themselves and taking note of the subtle cues our children give when they feel anxious. It is important to take time to sit quietly with the children we care for, reminding them that they are with people who will keep them safe and listen to their concerns.
The ACF has 10 tips for carers and support workers to help vulnerable children feel safe and secure this Christmas.
1. Develop an understanding of our own stress responses as well as those of the children we are caring for so we can help them understand their feelings.
2. Keep as many routines as possible - we all cope better when we feel we can control or predict our day, and traumatised children are no exception. With busy, full days, the anchor points at the beginning and end become particularly important.
3. Prepare the child for any changes to normal routines in advance with as much detail as possible such as where you are going, why, who will be there, and what to expect.
4. Allow extra time to prepare the child for transitions, such as going from one house to another.
5. Have open and honest conversations with children regarding their family if they wish.
6. Identify a safe person at any parties that the child can stay with.
7. Develop a “special sign” with the child so that they can indicate when they need some support.
8. Build opportunities for quiet time and relaxation into every day.
9. Help them to organise and name their emotions and body sensations.
10. Make sure to find time for self-care – take time to self soothe and calm which will promote co-regulation.
We understand the complexity and difficulties for some of our cilents around this time which is why CareSouth's After Hours Service will be on call 24/7 right throughout the holiday period to provide support to children, young people, families and staff.