Surviving Holidays

Ask almost anyone and they will tell you--the holiday season, while fun, can be very very stressful. And if you ask the parents of an adolescent, they will probably add four more 'very's in there. Parents and teens can find it quite a struggle to bring any joy to the season at all. However, making expectations known, arranging personal time for everyone, and emphasizing compromise can help make the holidays merrier for everyone.

The number one remedy for unpleasant surprises during the holidays is for family members to make expectations known. From something as simple as teens letting parents know what they would like for gifts to something as touchy as parents telling adolescents they will be expected to spend time with the detested 'Aunt Gertrude', the more that is explicitly said, the better. Getting expectations out in the open allows for discussion rather than argument--for reasoned debate rather than fighting. It also allows family members to pick a time when everyone is rested and calm rather than tired and cranky to talk things out.

We can all get a little tired of 'togetherness' and this is especially true for adolescents. Making sure teens have a chance to unwind by themselves in their room or even with friends will assure that the time spent together is much more enjoyable. Keep this in mind when relatives arrive, forcing your children to stay home to 'see more of Aunt Gertrude' is unlikely to ensure that anyone enjoys the holidays. Even just a few hours to go to the mall with friends may improve a teen's mood dramatically. Parents should also be sure they take time for themselves. Although adults can tolerate long stretches of family time better than children, family wears on most of us eventually. Some people may find it hard to excuse themselves from company. Needing to do a little shopping, a meeting with 'a friend who's having trouble' and 'a few errands to run' are all good excuses adults can use for getting away from family for a bit. And, when Grandma remarks to you, "I'd really hoped we'd see more of the kids!" you can either be honest or say, "They can only take so much family time, Mom. After that, trust me--you don't want to see them!" or be more coy and say, "I can understand you're disappointed," and leave it at that.

Another key to enjoyable holidays is to emphasize compromises. As adults and role models, it works best if parents are willing to make the first step to 'give' a little. A good technique for making this happen is for parents to start a conversation asking for something they expect their child to refuse, which is not too important to the parents, anyway. For example, a parent might begin by saying, "We'll extend curfew by one hour on New Year's Eve," knowing the teen will object, and already planning to allow a two hour extension. Although it is sneaky, children very much appreciate a parent's willingness to work with them, and this is a way for parents to set a good example without giving more than they wanted initially. Another situation would be if parents suggest their children should study daily during the break, knowing in advance that the compromise will most likely be studying every other day, or studying daily but for less time.