By Amanda Craig PhD, LMFT
Could the holiday season get more stressed? With holiday decorations now showing up before Halloween, the social media-induced pressure to produce Insta-worthy activities, the shopping, the parties (just you wait: they’re coming. Lots of pent up COVID demand there) and the card …oy, the card. Then there’s our tween, at the crazy-making crossroads between no-longer-a-little-kid but not-yet-a-teen. Sure, ‘tis the season of joy, sugar plum fairies, the eight days of Hanukkah and all that, and these are absolutely first world problems. But.
While I don’t deny the good stuff, there are truths about the holidays people don’t usually talk about—the kind that put our holiday train through unexpected turns, hills and awkward, unwanted lulls as we careen on an exhausting ride to January 1. There are also things we can do about them. So, if we really want to arrive at a Happy New Year, let’s start by looking at these truths and the ways to counteract them.
The problems we have in family relationships throughout the year are often magnified during the holidays. Those who drink tend to drink more. If we argue, we’ll argue more. Financial stress becomes bigger financial stress. And so on.
As the pace intensifies and we’re out more, we pay a price with more stress and hits to our physical and mental health …social exhaustion is a thing…and the wheels come off the rails.
Will our tween join the family fun or keep to themselves? Will they be enthusiastic about the long-standing family traditions or shrug them off? Will they embarrass us with bad behavior in front of the extended family or show up cheerfully? Worry too much …and the wheels come off the rails.
Here are five easy tips to keep the holiday train on track.
1. Give your undivided attention.
Now. Not when everything is done. Stop multitasking. Make eye contact. Be fully present with your kids and your partner. Give them the experience of being your sole focus, your only care. It matters. It allows our children to feel seen. It shows our partner we care about them. It strengthens our emotional connection and nourishes our relationships. Five minutes of undivided attention nourishes us more than three hours together multitasking.
2. Listen and share.
Talk with curiosity and wonder. Ask:
3. Practice family rituals and traditions.
When we have rituals and traditions, we offer our kids an opportunity to be part of a heartfelt experience, something special and unique to our family. It could be the day we decorate the tree, giving to a local food pantry or coat drive, Saturday morning hot chocolate, a walk in the snow to cut down a tree, building a snowman, special foods we make or pretty much anything your family does each year. Just make sure the rituals are things the whole family can participate in. It will create a secure and irresistible sense of belonging that will travel with our kids into adulthood.
Don’t get discouraged if your tween acts like they are “over it.” Reel them in with questions such as “What is your favorite family tradition?” “What new ritual would you like our family to try?” Questions put a dialogue on equal footing and signal to our tween that their opinion and their experience matters.
4. Connect by giving.
Not all kids will go deep into this but most can and will come up with a way they want to make their mark on the holiday season by giving to others. Ask them if there is something special they would like to do for others. Get at what matters to them, empowers them and makes them feel like they are making an impact. Show kids what matters to you by giving back during the season as well, not because you have to but because you feel pulled toward the offering.
5. To thine own self give care.
Self-care is essential. The airlines nailed it way back when they said, ‘Put your mask on before helping others.’ How can we be present for others if we are not present for ourselves? We must find ways to rest and relax, to feel alive and enjoy. Self-care often seems too indulgent or time-consuming, the first thing struck from our long list of holiday to dos. It is not indulgent. It is not selfish. It will not cut into what we must get done. The truth is, when we have down time or make time for things we love and people we enjoy, we actually have more energy and feel more alive which helps us tackle our to dos more efficiently and show up better for our kids and partner. We must say “no” to people or events that rob us of our time for self-care, no matter who we disappoint. If we’re doing it for our well-being, it’s non-negotiable. And while it might be a hard to say no in the moment, you will feel better over the long term.
For more on how to build the kind of connection with your tween that will help you during the holidays and throughout these tumultuous years, give yourself my tween parenting book this holiday season. Entitled Who Are You and What Have You Done with My Kid? Connect With Your Tween While They Are Still Listening, it’s out nationally in print and audiobook from Hachette Book Group. You’ll find it on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.