A Joyful Holiday with Teens

Many of us want our holidays to be something like “Miracle on 34th Street,” but somewhere along the way, it becomes more like “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Instead of experiencing the joy of giving, we find ourselves in debt. Instead of roasting chestnuts by the fire, we find ourselves too busy and stressed out to sit down. Instead of being thankful for family, we find ourselves bickering.

There are ways to create a meaningful holiday for you and your teen without the nightmares. Following are some tips to not just survive, but thrive, in the holiday season.

Not Breaking the Bank

The holiday season should not put you in debt. How is placing yourself in financial hardship in any way reflective of the season? Remember, the point of gift-giving is to show your appreciation for that person, not to give them everything they ever wanted. Families should make a holiday budget. Write down everyone on your gift-giving list. Set a spending limit for each person. Write down gift ideas before you go shopping. Then, force yourself to stick to the budget – if you overspend for one person, that means you must underspend for someone else. Don’t use your credit card unless you plan to pay it off immediately. Besides creating a budget and sticking to it, encourage the whole family to be creative in gift-giving. First, there’s no rule that says gifts have to be bought new. Scour thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets and other second-hand sources for gift-worthy items at prices well below retail. Adolescents often love “vintage” items. Second, consider making a gift. Ideas might include using pockets from old clothes to make a cell phone holder, using old sweaters or curtains to make a purse, using beads or household items to make jewelry, using kits to make a tie-dye shirt, or creating a coupon book for activities the recipient might enjoy.

Reducing Stress

The holidays are full of potential stressors: hectic schedule, financial stress, crowds, changes in diet and routines, high expectations for the “perfect” holiday, or grief over a loss. Teens are also susceptible to feeling disappointed that the holidays are not the same as when they were young kids. Youth can actually mourn the loss of the fun childhood excitement they remember. There is no one right way to experience the holidays and it may vary year to year based on the circumstances at the time, but there are ways to reduce stress:

  • Take care of your body with exercise, moderation in diet and enough sleep.
  • Set aside some time to relax or do an activity you enjoy. Put it on the calendar to make sure it happens!
  • Don’t over-schedule. Be realistic and prioritize plans – even if all 10 things you want to do are fun, they won’t each be fun if you try to do them all.
  • Try to enjoy things as they are, not as you think they should be. Let go of “perfect.”
  • Set aside differences and accept family members and friends as they are.
  • Plan ahead. Start now with shopping for and making gifts, holiday preparations, and decorations. Make lists for each activity that you need to accomplish and schedule the time to complete them. These activities are supposed to be fun and filled with holiday cheer, so setting aside the time to do them will allow you to enjoy the activity and not dread or rush to complete it.

Surviving the School Break

There are lots of ways for teens to enjoy their time during school break without driving mom and dad crazy. Beyond the usual “hanging out” with friends, the school break is an excellent time for teens to make money through odd jobs or babysitting, volunteer at a food bank or other local nonprofit, reorganize their room to find homes for new gifts and donate old things, connect with youth programs at the YMCA or other local community groups, pitch in with household duties, and, perhaps most especially, spend time with family. Organize some fun family activities or game nights and make sure everyone makes it a priority to be there.

Establish Holiday Traditions

Be sure to consider your family’s holiday traditions. The maintenance of family traditions is far more important to children of all ages than most parents realize. Traditions create and establish the boundaries of a family. The child gains a sense of belonging through family rituals that makes them part of a clearly defined unit that is separate from all their peers. Simple things – such as sharing a special meal or wearing a holiday outfit or watching a specific movie – can create lasting memories. Although traditions are very important to maintain, they must also be flexible. Changing family dynamics – such as divorce, the loss of a loved one, or even the changing ages of family members – require new traditions to be established. Allow teens to help decide which traditions need to be kept or abandoned, help create new traditions to fit the family, and help keep the traditions on which you have decided.

Encouraging Thankfulness

Teenagers aren’t always the most grateful form of our species, but there are ways to encourage a spirit of thankfulness. Instilling this value in youth will serve them well throughout life because studies consistently show that people who are grateful are happier overall in their lives than people who are not and are less likely to be materialistic. Here are some ways for adults to encourage gratitude in teens:

  • Model sincere appreciation. Teens notice when the adults around them have an attitude of gratitude, so comment on the small stuff such as when someone opens a door for us, smiles kindly, or pays us a compliment.
  • Teach proper gift etiquette. Be honest that every gift a teen receives may not be his/her favorite. However, it’s still important to express good manners (such as a sincere thank-you note) when someone was generous enough to spend their time and money on him/her.
  • Don’t take things for granted. As an adult, you should point out the many things teens can be grateful for, such as the wonders of invention, good health, the coach who volunteers their time, or the roof over your head.
  • Share thankful thoughts at the dinner table during the month of December. Ask everyone to mention one thing each night they are thankful for. Even if your teen cannot think of anything to say, parents can still say things that will help your teen see the things that you appreciate.

Final Thoughts…

Recall your favorite holiday memories from your childhood and you will likely discover that it was simple things that delighted you. We rob ourselves of the joy when we try to make everything so hectic and intense and over the top. Try to simplify your family’s holidays and recapture the joy that the holidays are meant to share.

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