Surviving the Holidays

Thanksgiving dinner can be great if you’ve got fun family traditions, delicious food, and scrumptious desserts to look forward to. But for many teens, dealing with the holidays is challenging. Maybe you go back and forth between divorced parents or, worse, miss seeing either your mom or dad. Or maybe you’ll be getting used to new family members this year. Some of you might have one of those—well, lively—families that make holiday get-togethers complicated. You know, when old tensions flare the minute a certain aunt or grandparent or cousin walks through the door? Just thinking about classic rivalries and ear-splitting arguments gives you a stomach ache—even before you’ve stuffed yourself with pumpkin pie.

Although you probably don’t get to decide where your family goes or who’ll get invited to your house, there’s plenty you CAN do to make Thanksgiving enjoyable. So take charge and make positive changes using these steps:

1. First pinpoint exactly why you’re dreading the holiday . Then you can figure out how to change it.

2. Talk to your parents honestly and directly. Not: “Thanksgiving is stupid,” but “Aunt Bea embarrasses me when she quizzes me about my grades” or “There’s nobody my age to hang out with” or “Uncle Mike makes jokes at my expense.”

3. Brainstorm ideas about what would make things better. For example, maybe you’ll figure out how to guide Aunt Bea or Uncle Mike onto more pleasant topics, invite a friend, or plan enjoyable activities with older or younger cousins.

Here are the some common complaints about Thanksgiving get-togethers along with possible solutions:

Dislike the food? Offer to bring your favorite dishes. Or eat before you get there so you’re not starving. One girl dreaded Thanksgiving dinner because her relatives served only beige food (e.g., potatoes, rice, bread, etc.). One year, she brought a big salad and green vegetables. The next, her parents took her out for pizza before they arrived!

Tired of traditions? Maybe you feel like you’re too old to enjoy the traditions you did in second grade—or perhaps you never liked them. It’s okay to change it up—and even to start your own, new traditions. Instead of the touch football game Uncle Tom always insists upon, bring along an interesting game, craft, or group activity you like. It might even become everyone’s favorite.

Don’t get along with someone? No matter how much you love your family, sometimes people just get under our skin. That’s totally normal. Maybe a competitive cousin, sarcastic uncle, or critical grandparent annoys you. This year, try not to fume silently. If they’re really bugging you, speak up (“Let’s not even go there this year”) or laugh it off (“We can’t talk about grades; this is a school vacation!”). Get comfortable with what you’ll say by role playing beforehand with a parent or friend. Or, plan on just changing the subject. Ask about your uncle’s job, your grandma’s bridge game, or your cousins’ travel soccer (people usually love to talk about themselves). Or, concentrate on making another guest feel comfortable, such as a visitor or newcomer to family.
Escape Routes

If all other strategies fail, here are some tactful ways to find serenity—even for a few minutes.
Best strategy? Find something to do to help. If you’re dying to get away from grandma’s frustrating questions or cousin Gerald’s infuriating bragging, offer to babysit for a toddler or little child. Or volunteer to wash or dry some dishes. Not only can doing a mindless task be soothing, but also it feels good to be appreciated!

Tackle your schoolwork. After indulging little cousins in 14 games of Candyland, spend part of the Thanksgiving break doing research for a report in a local library, or bring study materials with you. Get caught up on assigned reading in a relative’s study or den. Your parents will love how motivated you are!
Decide that this holiday will be enjoyable. Set an intention and plan ahead to make that happen. Focus on the people, activities and, of course, the foods you love. The boring stories, pinched cheeks, and interrogations about your future might not be so bad. This Thanksgiving, aim to be truly more thankful.

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