First of all, congratulations: clicking on this article is a proactive step toward managing any potential problems your teenager might cause over the holidays. You know from personal experience this time of year can bring out the best and worst in people. You know family time can be tough. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that up front. No matter what face everyone puts forward on holiday cards and social media posts, let’s be honest: every family has its moments. No family is perfect. While you want to be positive, you also want to anticipate any issues and be ready if they come up.
The emotionally charged dinner table scene you fear most might not happen, but then again, it might. Especially if it’s happened before, and especially if your teenager has been acting out lately.
Besides, if your family pushes your coping mechanisms to the limit, imagine what your teenager might be going through. They don’t have the years of experience you have, they don’t have the foresight to see when things are about to go sideways, and they barely have the neurons in their brain to modulate their behavior or manage the stress that accompanies the hormone-driven rollercoaster of adolescence.
All that to say: good move. You’re on the right track, and you’ve come to the right place. There are a few basic things you can do to keep the drama to a minimum. These tips should immediately make perfect sense. And if they don’t make sense for your family, then don’t use them. But we think everything we’re about to say can help.
Preparation is Key
Your preparation starts right now with this list.
Five Tips to Avoid Teen Holiday Drama
- Preview the Schedule. Before the extended family arrives, or before you go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, sit down with your teen and talk through the schedule. Let them know when they need to be present, dressed in their holiday best, and ready for the (possibly) annoying antics of aunts, uncles, cousins, or whoever else you know will be there.
- Know the Triggers. Yours and theirs. Just like when your teen was a toddler, they still have a knack for picking up on your emotional state and acting it out. You don’t have to jump through hoops and be the emotional equivalent of a helicopter parent at the playground, but if your goal is to avoid drama, it helps to know what pushes everyone’s buttons. Start with yours, know they’re coming, then idenfity theirs, and work to avoid them if possible.
- Know the Coping Strategies. Again, yours and theirs. Before your “preview the schedule” talk, review your personal coping strategies for dealing with holiday emotions. Be up front about yours with your teenager. If they don’t have any, help them create some. The more open and honest you are, the more open and honest they’ll be about what they need.
- Find the Positive. Look for ways to set everyone up for success. All your family members have their strengths. That goes for you, your teenager, and everyone around the table. You can create situations that foreground their strengths and minimize the impact of their challenge areas.
- Plan Self–Care. The family schedule might be packed full, but this is crucial. Half an hour of personal time can make twelve hours of family time smooth and manageable, if you get the timing right and make the most of it. For you this might mean exercise, while for your teen it might mean chilling with YouTube or listening to music. Make it happen, and you’ll be happier.
Communication and Compassion
We understand it may be tempting to take an authoritarian approach to your teenager at this time of year. You may feel like saying, “So help me, if you ruin this day, you’re not going to like the consequences.” However, that approach will likely backfire. If not now, then later. Sure, teens need structure, rules, and specific outcomes for unwanted behavior. But they’ll do better if they know the why behind the rules as well as what will happen if they break them. When you have your pre-holiday sit down, make it a conversation instead of a lecture. Welcome their input and incorporate it when it makes sense. You never know: they might have ideas and insights about your family that help make this holiday the best yet.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.