Creating a Stress-Free Holiday with your Teen

magical holidayOur expectations define our experiences. In the exact same situation, two people can have very different experiences based on what they expected to happen. For example, let’s assume Sally and Fred attend a holiday party. Sally was dreading the party and thought it would be boring and awkward. Fred was very excited to attend the party and thought it would be the highlight of his holiday. The party turned out to be fairly ordinary – nothing exceptionally good happened, but neither did anything bad happen. Despite experiencing the exact same party, Sally will leave feeling relieved and happy and Fred will leave feeling disappointed and sad. Their expectations of what would happen made them experience the same event in very different ways.

The holiday season can be full of high expectations. Our culture promotes an image of the “perfect” holiday. We might imagine gathering by a fire with family, laughing and sharing special moments. But, these images don’t always fit with reality. Hectic schedules can make us feel stressed. Our family may not be very pleasant to be around, or they may not live close enough for a visit. There is pressure to spend money we don’t have for gifts. Teenagers can act unpleasant or not want to spend time with the family. A divorce or the death of a loved one during the past year can cause grief to resurface during this time. The holidays bring plenty of opportunities for feeling overwhelmed, so we need to manage our expectations to let go of perfection and aim for enjoyable.

So, how do we manage our expectations so that the holiday season can truly bring joy into our homes? Here are a few tips to help parents of teens avoid conflict and handle stress:

Present a plan. Sit down with the entire family and discuss the holiday schedule. Informing your teens about where and when specific events will occur is a good way to avoid frustration. Avoid planning anything in the morning, since teens are generally cranky when they can’t sleep in. Let everyone provide input. If there are some activities that are not pleasing to teens, but must be attended or completed, explain that and then also allow time for activities that the teen would find enjoyable.

Compromise. As you make plans, if you truly want to avoid conflict with the teens in your home, we highly recommend that you develop some holiday bargains: you each give something and get something. This can be difficult for parents because it means some traditions may not look the same as in the past or you may have to make room for your teen’s friends at holiday events. However, if you sit down and work out a compromise with your teen, you will be teaching them an important life skill that they will need in adulthood, and you will be ensuring a more peaceful and relaxed holiday for the entire family. To learn how to create a bargain, please read our previous blog, Positive Compromises with your Teen for the Holidays.

Identify opportunities for relaxation and/or friends. Two things that teenagers want during the holidays is time to relax and time to spend with friends. Please respect your teen’s time for both without feeling insulted. Teens are very friend-focused and hate missing out on fun activities. Teens also need time off from their rigorous schoolwork, so they need alone time, as well. When you’re working out compromises with your teen, make sure that your holiday schedule has elements of family time, friend time, and downtime. (Sometimes, you can combine friend and family time together. Friends can be a great buffer, and teens usually behave better in front of them.)

Give your teen a responsibility. Assign your teen a holiday responsibility of which they are in charge. Maybe they can cook one of your family’s traditional dishes or decorate a part of the house for the holiday. Whatever it is, let your teen do it their way and resist the urge to criticize or correct. A great way to bond with family members is to prepare meals together. Many times, teens who have a role in the planning and preparation of a holiday meal, complain less about the choices.

Ask your teen to suggest ways to have quality family time. Emphasize quality, instead of quantity, when engaging your teen in family time. For example, let your teen know that if they engage in a family activity, then they can do a fun activity with friends. You will likely have a much more engaged and cheerful teen on your hands. Additionally, ask your teen to take an active role in planning the family’s activities and encourage creativity. They may come up with a new family tradition everyone loves, but even if they don’t, they will likely be more pleasant if they had a role in planning the activity.

Encourage Positive Stress Relief. Teach your teen positive ways to cope with stress, such as:

  • Take part in regular exercise, get plenty of sleep, and make sure to eat healthy. When you take care of your body, you can handle stress much better.
  • Set aside some time to relax or do an activity you enjoy, such as listening to music, drawing, playing basketball, etc.
  • 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.”

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