Tips for Talking to Your Teens to Defuse Potential Explosions
by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
The holidays are right around the corner, so now is the time to stress-proof your teen by talking with them about any potential friction areas.
The holidays can be the best times of the year. You get to see Grandma and Grandpa, mom and dad, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and old friends. You’ll be sharing dinner, talking about the old days, and decorating cookies; it sounds like a greeting card. It s going to be wonderful, and you are excited to have everyone at your house. That is, until you tell your teen and they scrunch their face up and say, “Oh no, not Aunt June and Uncle Bob. Do I have to give my room up again?” You dread telling your teen because of the expected reaction from them about giving up their room.
Small children might find it exciting to leave their rooms and sleep in a different place in the house, but asking a teen to give up their “safe” spot, is usually a whole different situation.
Remember, the holidays can be stressful for everyone in the family for different reasons. Teens are often stressed about buying their friends gifts, being away from their friends, the lack of structure, and seeing family that they have not seen for a while. Having extended family around also makes Mom and Dad act differently. Teens may notice Mom and Dad acting more frazzled. Retreating to their own room is one way teens relax, but if you will be cutting off that escape, it is wise to help them prepare ahead of time.
Gentle ways to make help your teen feel less stressed during the crazy holiday season:
1. Teenagers need privacy and feel resentful if they are moved hastily. Begin planning for company one month prior to their arrival. Ask the teen what should be off limits for the guests. Certain books, magazines, and letters can be stored in a private place. A reading light, books, or journals should be moved to wherever your teen will be sleeping. Teens may feel shy around company they haven’t seen for sometime, or they may be self-conscious regarding their changing body. Relocating your teen to a space with a door and lock is optimal. Make a pact with your teen; tell them that visiting time is important, but they may retreat to their own space after spending x-amount of time with the relatives.
2. Parents get busy with company and festivities. They often forget that their teen may become anxious or depressed without their friends and regular school structure. If you have extra time, ask your teen to get up early with you to go for coffee before anyone else wakes up. This makes your teen feel special and also helps them realize that your time together is still important. It is a time you can explain some of your relatives to your teens, and don’t forget to listen to your teen’s insight about the relatives. When teens understand family dynamics, they are more forgiving and helpful. Tell your teen that you really need their help to make this a special holiday. Teens want to please their parents. When you ask for help, you are basically telling them, “I trust you, and I want to show my family what a great child I have.”
3. Lastly, before your company comes, sit down with your children and write three to five expectations you have for them (kids cannot read your mind). This is a good time to delegate chores so everyone has a job to contribute. Suggest to your children that when everyone leaves happy, you will have time to celebrate them (the children). Allow each child to invite one or two friends over for a Thanksgiving or holiday sleepover. This helps each child celebrate with their parents and family, knowing the same respect will be given for them to celebrate with their friends.
Your children won’t remember who ate too much or what the dessert was each holiday. What they will remember is how you made them feel special. They will remember the little things you did to try and make it the best holiday. I have had teens tell me that their parents made room dividers out of cardboard boxes so they could have privacy or that their parents were sensitive to Aunt Jo’s snoring not being too close to them. No teen wants to give up their room, but they will if they know Mom and Dad love them and appreciate their cooperation.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.