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How Can I Help My Kid Handle Holiday Stress?



If you're feeling stressed about this holiday season, you're not alone. A new survey from the Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine earlier this month shows that YEP, our stress levels are super high. Some findings:


81% of Americans are stressing out over national issues and world affairs

75% are stressed about rising prices and holiday spending

53% are stressed from increasing cases of flu, COVID, and other respiratory illnesses

44% are stressed from memories of last year’s holiday travel meltdown


Current research is also showing higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide in our teens. Our kids are stressed out. Most teens get a triple whammy of anxiety in December. Depending on their age, they face extreme school pressure, such as college prep, SAT prep, end-of-term projects, and more, with huge social pressures from their friends and social media, along with the jacked-up emotions and expectations of the holiday season.


So, potentially, this holiday season, we will have a bunch of homes filled with super-stressed adults and adolescents.


When you're under stress, the last thing you want is your boss to give you a hard time, your partner to criticize you, or your kids to be demanding. It's overwhelming. You just want to get home, chill out and relax. As an adult, you have ways (coping skills) to relax. But kids don't know how to cope with stress productively--they must be taught. Remember, baseline parenting is being responsible and nurturing. Protecting your kids from toxic levels of stress is your job. However, we all know that kids don't really learn from lectures, they learn from watching you. So a huge part of helping your teen deal with stress is modeling the ways you deal with stress.


How do you deal with your stress? Do you reach for another glass of wine or more edibles, watch TV, play games, shut down, yell, talk to a friend, go for a walk, journal, or meditate?

No judgment, just curious-are your coping skills healthy or unhealthy?


How do you envision your kid dealing with their stress? Are they choosing healthy or unhealthy coping skills?


Is it possible you might be adding to your kid's stress by lecturing, yelling, blaming, demanding, criticizing, or punishing?


As a parent or caregiver, it's crucial that you provide support, encouragement, and guidance so your teen can thrive. It might feel overwhelming and unfair, but you need to guide your kid through their stress, at a time when you are stressed as well.


Did you know--symptoms of stress in teens look different than in adults? Some common signs of adolescent stress include:

  • stomachaches, headaches, or an increase in illnesses

  • increased irritability

  • more challenging and negative behaviors, especially at school

  • sleep issues

  • more conflicts with friends

  • academic problems

  • greater sense of doom and negative talk

We expect our winter holidays to be a time of joy and excitement, but they can also be a time of fear, stress, and grief. And let's face it, spending the holidays with a stressed teenager is challenging. Every kid and family is different, but here are some basic ways for you to help your teen manage stress this holiday season:




1. Family Meetings: I love the idea of family meetings, where each family member has a voice and is listened to with respect. Yes, even the littles get a say! Clear, concise, and frequent family meetings help keep everyone on the same page, manage expectations, and validate feelings. They don't have to be long and boring. For example: hold a meeting where the family decides on cookie flavors, reviews their calendar and due dates, or picks favorite foods for the holiday meal (my mom always made creamed onions when all we wanted was mac and cheese). The key is a calm, supportive environment where people can share information, review responsibilities, and go over the holiday schedule. Everyone gets to speak and everyone is listened to. Being honest and proactive can really help reduce stress levels for all individuals in the family. 



2. Open Communication: maintaining open communication with your teenager is challenging but vital. Keep in mind: your kid wants a relationship with you! If you suspect your teen is stressed, approach them from a place of curiosity and empathy. Asking, "I've noticed you seem stressed. Do you want to talk about it?" can go a long way. Even if your kid doesn't choose to talk, you have opened the door and invited them into your safe space. Bottom line: Don't be afraid to talk to your kid.


One of the most common missteps we do as parents is trying to solve our kid's problems. "If they would just do what we tell them, then everything would be ok!" Right? Well, not really. As much as we can sympathize, we really can't help our kids manage their school work, friend issues, and more. Even though the timing sucks, they need to learn these valuable life skills of managing their time and energy. Parents doing the work for their kids solves nothing and can even cause more problems. 

 

When you talk, let them know that you are there to listen and support them, no matter what. Encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings, whether they are excited, anxious, or even dreading the holidays. You can't solve all their problems, but you can be non-judgmental, caring, and empathetic. This will help your teen feel understood and validated.

"Do you need to talk?"

"Do you want me to just listen or help you problem solve?"

"Would you like some advice about what I would do in this situation?"




3. Manage, and Maybe Lower, Your Expectations: Is this a year to do less and spend less? You cannot do every fun winter activity and buy every present. Help your teen set realistic expectations for the holidays. 

 

Teach your teen the importance of adaptability. Plans may change, and unexpected events can occur during the holidays. It's normal to feel disappointed, frustrated, sad, and angry when things don't go our way. Validate their feelings (I bet you're bummed too!), and show them that being flexible and resilient in the face of change is a valuable life skill.


Also- be sure to manage expectations around chores and preparations. You might be ready to tackle an 18-step Christmas dessert, but that doesn't mean your teen is willing to wash all those dishes. At your Family Meeting, talk honestly about what it takes to make Holiday Magic happen, ask for input, be prepared to modify your plans, and assign jobs. That dessert will be easier if someone else does the shopping, the prep, and the clean up. 


When your teen is stressed, they are not going to want to do much. Lower your expectations around holiday traditions and festive outings. I always said, Pick your Battles (decide what's really important and what's not). Don't let normal, developmentally appropriate teenage emotions ruin your good time. If your teen refuses to wear the matching pjs for the family picture, let them. I'm telling you, no one cares. When you share that photo with friends and family, they will smile and remember their teenage years. In ten years, everyone will have a good laugh. 


December brings so much fun and stress, especially for teens facing academic and social pressures, and parents need to offer unwavering support. The statistics reflect the challenges within our homes. Strategies like family meetings and open communication create a supportive environment, fostering meaningful dialogue. Managing expectations and teaching adaptability provide practical ways to navigate the season. Strive for connection and understanding rather than perfection during this challenging yet meaningful time.



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