A lot of people experience holiday blues.
Holidays can be a rough time for a lot of people–and not just adults. Children and teenagers also experience stress and sadness around the holiday season.
For example, children of divorced parents might feel sad about being away from one parent during the holidays, or anxious about having to split the holiday between different homes.
Children and teens also pick up on their parents’ feelings, so if you’re feeling down, your teen might as well. And teens are also affected by some of the same things that trigger holiday blues in adults – for example, if there’s been a recent death in the family, that might affect your teen’s ability to enjoy the holidays as well as your own.
And because teenagers have more limited life experience than their parents, they may not have the coping skills that will enable them to get through a case of the holiday blues.
It’s up to parents to look for signs that teens are struggling and find a way to help. Take a look at some tips that can help your teen beat the holiday blues.
Maintain the Routine
While teens may not need rigid nap times and meal times as much as younger children do, they still need structure and routine in their lives, and they may feel overwhelmed or out of control when that routine is disrupted significantly.
And there’s nothing more disruptive than a big holiday! Traveling, encountering relatives that they don’t see often, and major interruptions to their normal schedule can cause some teens to experience holiday stress and blues.
You can help by giving your teen at least some structure during their holiday break. Stick to regular mealtimes and bedtimes as closely as possible.
For teens, it’s fine to schedule some activities that start in the evening and may run late – the shift in circadian rhythms that occurs during the teen years means that teens usually feel better when they go to bed later and sleep in later in the mornings, so at this age, it’s better to avoid early morning activities than late-night activities.
But getting enough sleep is very important, no matter when that sleep occurs. Your teen will feel better if they’re getting enough sleep at around the same time that they normally do.
Nutrition can also have a big impact on mood, so make sure that your teen is eating regularly. Don’t police your teen’s food choices too closely or prevent them from enjoying their favorite holiday foods, but make sure that they also have healthy and familiar food options available.
If your teen will be spending their holiday away from you – for example, if you and their other parent are separated – do your best to work with the adult who will be supervising your teen to make sure that your teen has some structure during their holiday.
Help Balance Obligations
Holidays can make teens feel as if they’re being pulled every which way. They may have multiple family obligations, especially if there’s been a divorce in the family.
They may have invitations to spend time with friends, as well as competing invitations to different holiday parties.
If your teen has a job, they may also be asked to work additional hours during their time off of school, or even on the holiday itself. That can be a lot for your teen to try to balance.
Help your teen find a way to organize and prioritize their various holiday obligations and invitations. Try not to add to their stress by demanding that they devote all of their free time to family.
Remember that your teen is growing into an adult with a life of their own, and activities with their own social circle are important as well. Try to make sure that your teen has a balance – some family time, but also some time with friends their own age.
What’s more, find out what your teen doesn’t want to do. Not all holiday invitations need to be accepted, and not all obligations are really valid obligations.
Remind your teen that it’s OK for them to say “no” sometimes, whether it’s to their friends, their boss, or even to family. This is not giving your teen permission to be unkind or uncaring, it’s teaching your teen that it’s OK to prioritize their own needs as well as others.
Set Realistic Expectations
Teens in particular sometimes experience holiday blues simply because their actual holiday experience doesn’t live up to their memories or imagination.
For smaller children, the holidays can seem magical, and parents and others often help that impression along by simulating actually magic – toys appearing in stocking seemingly out of nowhere, for example.
But by the time your child reaches their teen years, the magic may have worn off – not just because they no longer believe in benevolent elves and flying reindeer, but also because they’re expected to do more of the work involved in making the holiday happen (such as wrapping presents, helping to prepare meals, and cleaning out the spare room for out of town relatives coming to stay) and this can make the whole holiday season seem much more mundane.
Help your teen by setting realistic expectations for the holidays.
The holiday experience may be different for a 16-year-old than for a 6-year-old, but there are still plenty of joys to be found in the 16-year-old’s holiday experience.
Help them focus on the fun of choosing just the right gift for a friend or loved one or the satisfaction of successfully preparing a holiday meal.
If it’s not already part of your holiday tradition, the teen years are also a great time to introduce your teen to the joys of being generous and giving back to their communities. Collecting Toys for Tots or volunteering for the local community coat drive can give your teen a new perspective on what really matters during the holiday season.
Of course, it’s also important to be on the lookout for signs that your teen is suffering from something more serious than the holiday blues.
If symptoms like sadness, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, or changes in the way your teen eats and sleeps are severe or last for more than a couple of weeks, your teen might be suffering from depression and could benefit from talking to a therapist or counselor.