Coping With Christmas For Parents of Tweens and Teens by Dr Melanie Smart, Child Psychologist
‘That’ age, the cusp of teenage-dom, not quite a child, not quite an adult. Still wanting cuddles but only on their terms and never in front of their mates. No longer believing in the magic of Yuletide but still loving the fuss and tradition – despite possibly looking unbelievably aloof and nonchalant about it all.
So how do parents navigate this? “Carefully” is the Christmas cracker-esque answer. But seriously, Christmas can be a lovely time to be together if everyone is respectful of each other and their needs. It can be a time of high pressure and unusual activity for families and young people with their hormonal barometers can be particularly sensitive to this. So here is some psychologically evidenced practical advice for festive tidings of joy…
Routines – keep routines wherever you can. Young people are particularly sensitive to disturbances in sleep, diet and exercise. Going to bed at a similar time or allowing naps and lie-ins after a late night is a recipe for a happy day. Limiting sugar and encouraging balance will help with glucose spikes and limit “hangry” outbursts or mood dips. Long walks and fresh air will reset the brain and boost endorphins if cabin fever is setting in.
Interactions – where possible, limit screen time and encourage participation (we do not need to snapchat every moment to our friends, or Instagram every gift, surely???). Balance this with time-out for young people who need space to breathe – socialising at this age is super demanding and periods of brief isolation are normal. Don’t expect your young person to be “on” for the whole day. As it can be a particularly sensitive time for self-esteem, non-competitive games and opportunities for success can be maximised by the adults round them. Allocating jobs and roles and setting expectations which emphasise their importance in the day can also boost motivation and compliance.
Reflections – When it’s all over and the anti-climax sets we can all feel a little deflated. Observing gratitude practices can re-ignite the feel good. Encourage a ‘one-in-one-out’ policy, clearing out old clothes, toys and items to make way for the new gifts. Take these to a charity shop, shelter or local hospital to help those less fortunate. Thank you notes, pictures or videos can be sent to giftees (yes, selfies now allowed!) and edited highlights posted on Facebook if absolutely necessary… New Year’s resolutions can be made with goals, hopes and wishes for the forthcoming 12 months set out and cheered on by the family circle. Thank you’s for participation in the festivities can be made – praise even ‘normal/expected’ behaviour and you will get more of it and model observing and encouraging, an essential interpersonal skill for all of us.
Finally, practice what you preach parents. Be kind to yourself, take some time out, manage your own expectations and look after your health. It is a wonderful time of year but ultimately just another day. Enjoy it for what it is and have fun.
Have a very happy holiday season…
Chichester Child Psychology