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Hassle-Free Holidays

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By Tim Jahn, M.ED

Folks are stringing lights, humming holiday songs, shopping for gifts, and making plans for festive family gatherings. Everyone is full of anticipation and good cheer as the holidays approach – everyone except your pre-teen, that is.

Look who’s balking!

Many pre-teens are not looking forward to the holidays. Everything is dumb – the preparations, the rituals, the food, going to worship services, visiting relatives, and especially the music. They have outgrown the childhood traditions of the holiday and may resent being treated like a child just for the sake of younger children. They complain that visiting relatives and neighbors is boring, unless they have some age-mates to hang out with. Many pre-teens absolutely refuse to dress up for holiday meals, family visits, or church, threatening to boycott the entire affair if they have to wear shoes instead of sneakers. Some of them may even begin to question the materialism of the holidays when so many human beings live in poverty.

While everyone else is getting excited, pre-teens may gripe, sulk, argue, and refuse to cooperate. Why? Because their major developmental task is to separate from childhood and their families, and nothing represents childhood and family more than this holiday season. 

What can a parent do?

You may not be able to deflect all of your pre-teen’s moodiness, but there are a few steps you can take that can help reduce holiday hassles:

  • Try to involve your pre-teen in planning the holiday. Listen and thoughtfully consider his ideas.
  • Respect your child’s feelings. She may be moody because of the normal changes of adolescence or because she is mourning the loss of the childhood joy she used to feel.
  • Don’t fight about appearance. Set minimum guidelines and let it go. It’s more important that she behave “nice” than look nice.
  • Include his or her friends whenever appropriate. If your child’s friends think your holiday traditions are “cool,” so will your child.
  • Don’t over-extend the merry-making. Pre-teens may be willing to participate in the holiday activities for a couple of hours, but get antsy after that. After all, they have more important things to do, like Instagraming friends or playing video games.
  • Helping others may be just the antidote to holiday craziness for the entire family. There are plenty of charities that can use financial assistance and volunteer manpower this time of year.

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program and leads workshops for parents of pre-teens and teens. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at tcj2@cornell.edu.

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