The holidays can be a joyous time for family gatherings, social events, and relaxation. It can also be a stressful time, particularly for teens. Here are some common situations, scenarios, and tips for handling holiday stresses:
Setting Expectations and Creating a Schedule
Setting expectations and a schedule ahead of time can help everyone involved avoid unnecessary stress. All of those parties and family obligations should go on a list or calendar. Online calendars can help everyone stay on the same page while on the go.
Sit down with your teen and lay everything out. Just like with homework, breaking it down into its basic parts can help you to prioritize your schedule. Get things down to the minimum of what needs to be done, and write those down as “needs.” Everything else goes in the “wants” category. Make sure that the “needs” get done, and if any “wants” get done too, that’s a bonus. If you have too many “needs” in a day, you haven’t broken it down far enough, or you need to start saying “No” to people, tasks, and events. 
Having a lot of projects or papers
Take a look at the project and help your child to figure out where they can split the task up into multiple chunks that they can do over several days. For example, if the project is writing a paper, the first part could be to create an outline, the second part to write the first paragraph, and so on.
Using a calendar or writing it on a chart or list may be helpful to see which steps still need to be done, and when each step should be done (do your outline on Monday, the first paragraph or two on Tuesday, etc.). Make sure to leave time at the end for proofreading and any last minute edits!
Another way of breaking up a large task is to do so by time. Work for a set amount of time, like 30 minutes, and then take a break and do something else. Taking a walk, playing with a pet, or doing some other activity that your teen enjoys may provide motivation and help them to refresh before starting on the next section.
*For more information on Time Management, read our blog post about Time Management for ADHD students.
Recently Divorced or Separated Parents
Going through a divorce is rough for the whole family. Children and teens may feel caught in the middle between the separated parents, and some of the Holiday traditions that they are used to will be changing or no longer possible. Teens should talk to each parent about what they need so that they can work together to create new traditions for the Holidays.
Working out a schedule can be particularly rough, and requires an open conversation between the parents and the teen. Try not to make the teen the go-between – they are under enough stress. Instead, sit down together and create a schedule that works for all parties, keeping in mind that each person needs down time for relaxation as well.
*For more information on handling divorce or separation during the holidays, read our blog post A Quick Holiday Tip for Parenting During and After Divorce.
The Gift of Giving
The holidays are a time for giving, which can be stressful when you don’t have money to spend on gifts for your friends and family. Teens can instead make their own gifts, such as framed photos or baked goods. Or, create a coupon for the person to redeem for something that they need help with later, such as mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, or washing the car.
It’s awkward when someone has a gift for you, and you don’t have one for them. If this happens, say “thank you,” and be gracious. If there is still time before the holiday, make a small gift for them and give it to them the next time that you see them. If that’s not possible, treat them at a later date, such as buying them a treat when you go to the movies.
The Holidays Aren’t the Same as When You Were a Kid
As people grow older, the traditions surrounding the holidays shift. When children are younger, there is generally a great deal of excitement and wonder at the holiday. When children get older, the celebrations are often much more subdued, and it becomes more important to be together as a family.
One of the toughest parts of holiday celebrations is when a family member is no longer there for whatever reason, whether moving away or passing on. Keep as many traditions as possible, but when that is not an option try creating new ones. For example, if your grandmother always made a certain dish to bring, ask another family member to bring it, or bring a new dish for people to try.
Sleep Cycle Disruptions
With all of the family obligations, exams, and travel around the holidays, sometimes getting enough sleep is the last thing possible. Staying up late and getting up early in the morning can throw off the whole sleep cycle and can start to create new habits of bad sleep hygiene. Make sure to stick as close to your teen’s regular sleep schedule as possible, and let them get as much sleep as you can (at least 7 hours).
Stay away from electronics like the TV, computer, or phone screens for at least an hour before going to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “The increasing prevalence of electronics in children’s bedrooms creates a culture of evening engagement and light exposure that negatively impacts sleep time, sleep quality and daytime alertness.” The better rested they are, the better they will be able to study for finals or enjoy the holiday festivities.
Nothing to Eat
Going to eat at someone else’s house is nice – little to no cooking on your part. But, if you have special dietary restrictions like food allergies or being vegetarian or vegan, it can be a challenge to find something safe to eat. The easiest solution is to talk to the host and offer to bring a dish. That way, your family is contributing to the dinner, and there will be something that you know is safe to eat at the same time.
The holidays are often a time when families gather together and catch up. That also means that relatives that your teen doesn’t see very often want to talk about future plans. “Where are you going to college?” “Are you going to retake the SATs?” are just a few examples. These questions can be difficult to answer, as your teen may not have decided yet. The best way to handle this is to keep the answers short and offer them a date for when they’ll have an answer. “I’ll let you know what I decide by the end of the semester” is one example. If they continue to ask and push, repeat that the decision has not been made yet, and you will talk to them when it has.
Out of Contact
Being on break means being out of contact with your friends and support network. Your teen may be used to seeing them every weekday, so being without that support for a couple weeks at the holidays can be rough. Be patient with them as their use of texting, emailing, or social media websites like Facebook or Twitter will tend to increase.
If they 100 percent cannot reach their support network, have them write down what they would want to tell them in a journal or notebook. Journaling can be a great tool to help tame stress and get clarity on your emotions. Writing paragraphs or a long letter is not necessary, just the simple act of starting to write what’s on their mind may be all they need.
Taking a break during your “break”
School breaks around the holidays can be a really busy time. Your teen may have papers or projects that are due when school comes back, plus there are all those family obligations. When you’re scheduling your break time though, remember one thing – you need time to relax. If your teen doesn’t think they’ll have the time they need to relax, make sure they know that they can talk to you (their parents) about where it can be scheduled in. Maybe it means that your family skips that holiday party at your Aunt’s house this year in favor of going to dinner at your grandparents later in the week, or it could mean that you take a day just for yourselves.
Laughter is a great tool to help destress and change your mood. Watch a funny movie, go on YouTube and watch some funny clips, or read a fun book. When you laugh, your body can cool down your stress response, increase endorphins, and stimulate circulation and muscle relaxation – all of which contribute to being more relaxed and feeling less stressed. 
Ask for help when you need it
No one has to do everything by themselves. By maintaining an open line of communication within your family, your child can get help when they need it. Work together to adjust schedules, or decide which events you won’t be attending.
Keeping things in perspective
When you look at the big picture, the holiday season is a pretty short time. You and your teen can make it through, and there will be time afterward to do the things you didn’t have time for.