5 Things I Do Differently at Holidays with Teens

As the holiday season is rapidly approaching, some of us might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the length of our “to-do” list. While this feeling is common, it is also important to examine why the holidays are a great opportunity to bond with your teen. Today’s Parenthetical post provides a few quick tips on how to connect with your teen in a meaningful way over the holidays.

1. I try to focus less on holiday ritual and more on shared activity.

My family is an active part of a religious community so, sure, we still enjoy going to our church during the holiday. But I worry less about presents and customs and more about the things we like to do together. I set aside time for a family visit to the movie theater, bowling and sledding on our farm with the same intention that I used to give solely to things like cookie decorating and Christmas trees. .

2. I try to be more flexible.

My children have different schedules and needs now that they are older. Between sports, jobs and school, they do not always have the interest or the latitude to celebrate on the family schedule. I am trying to adapt. So why can’t holiday dinner become holiday breakfast?! Family events can expand to include your kids’ friends also. Modeling flexibility and a willingness to adapt to change is important for your teen to witness during what can be a stressful time of year.

 3. I try to honor the traditions that are most important to my kids.

We have had many holiday activities, events, and rituals over the years. Some of them stuck and some of them didn’t. Now my children are old enough to have memories of favorite traditions from their earlier childhoods and still find many of those rituals extremely comforting in their familiarity. I talk with them about what is most meaningful to them and work on those aspects, while trying to let go of the rest. When my daughter asks for the “baby Jesus” cake on Christmas Eve or one of my sons expresses his interest in watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at his grandparents’ house, I focus on making those things happen and dismiss the annual trip to watch “A Christmas Carol” that no one has time to attend.

4. I try to act as host for my children’s friends.

By Orin Zebest on Flickr
By Orin Zebest on Flickr

Holidays are a natural time for parties, so I try to make extra opportunities to allow my children to invite friends. I enjoy the opportunity to provide them with space to hang out, make noise and eat plenty of treats without having to organize activities and games. Before long all my kids will have flown the nest. I want them and their friends to remember my house as a place of hospitality and good feelings, so that they will  want to return often. One idea might be to help your teen host a “friends-giving” dinner in which they get to plan, organize and even cook a meal with their peers!

5. Now that they are old enough to understand, I try to remember and remind my children that there are many holidays, many ways of celebrating, and many who feel isolated.

While we are celebrating and enjoying time together, it is important for all of us to be sensitive to the traditions and needs of others. The United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world, highlighting the need (especially around this time of year) to teach our children about inclusion and acceptance. These are also the opportunities to reconnect with older neighbors and relatives who may hold different opinions and views. Here is the chance to support the friend who does not celebrate the mainstream holidays and to learn more about their traditions and celebrations.

  • What are some of your suggestions and ideas for how to make holiday celebrations and rituals more meaningful to your teens?

  • How have you changed family traditions as your children have gotten older?

No matter how you celebrate (or if you celebrate), we wish you all the best during this time of year!

 –from all of us at Parenthetical!


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is the Prevention Education Coordinator with the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board where she oversees statewide efforts to offer professional development and training to family serving professionals to promote healthy family functioning and reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect. She and her husband are the parents of two adult children and a teenage son who challenges them to keep honing their parenting skills and strategies. Becky previously served as a parenting outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and was one of the co-founders of Parenthetical.