Sunday, November 27, 2016

Maintaining Emotional Health and Hope during the Holidays with Your Teen

by Katie May

You’re a parent with a teen who’s struggling emotionally. Maybe they are anxious and full-on panic at the thought of a crowded room (even with familiar faces and family members in it.) Maybe they are depressed and withdrawn, and the concept of joy and laughter are so far off from their everyday that it feels cruel to ask them to smile for yet another picture when you know that it will be fake and plastered or trigger them to burst into tears.

You’re sitting back silently like an elf-on-the-shelf to avoid saying or doing something that will set your teen off or cause them to act out impulsively or self-destructively.

At this point you may be thinking, “Aren’t the holidays supposed to be fun?”

But from past experience you know that holidays and families can bring up baggage that causes way more stress than the everyday routine.

Many parents white-knuckle the winter break and repeatedly mutter the mantra “Just one week” until school resumes.  (Oh yeah… there’s another transition and yet another opportunity for your teen’s symptoms to increase… and for everything to fall apart again.).

Or, they spend the holiday season putting out fires and managing conflicts and crises as they arise with no clear plan for how to cope ahead and make the necessary changes that make the holidays run smoothly.  In fact, many therapists work this way too!  And if we’re being honest here, it’s just not working anymore.

When I work with teens in my teen groups we practice a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skill called Cope Ahead.  This idea is that we can begin to prepare for difficult situations by being mindful of how we may think, feel and behave in them and making a plan for how we will manage this in the moment.

One fun example of this is if you know that grandma is going to ask you twenty questions about why you’re not on the cheerleading squad and why you don’t like wearing pink, then you can make a game of it.  Create a bingo board for yourself on an index card to keep in your pocket and every time grandma makes a critical comment, check one off the board until you’ve “won” the game.  You can’t change grandma, but you CAN shift your reactions to be more effective.  I guarantee this game will have you laughing at your own personal inside joke rather than sulking sullenly in the corner!

Another example may be recognizing that a holiday will make you feel sad or empty because you lost a loved one and you miss them.  You can cope ahead by creating a memory jar or journal where you can record everything you remember about the holidays you shared together.  You can lead a discussion at the dinner table and ask others their favorite holiday memory of the loved one you lost.

Or, if being around people makes you nervous because you don’t know who will be there or what to say to them, you can do some prep work.  Make a list of everyone who will attend the gathering or party and decide on at least one topic that you can ask them about.  Also, write down three to five topics you like to talk about, such as what TV shows you’re watching or what’s new in your life that you’d be willing to share.  Having a set plan for what to say and who to say it to creates a structure for talking to people that takes some of the pressure off when you may freeze in the moment.

Coping ahead isn’t about making the feelings go away; it’s about using the knowledge you have about those feelings to change your experience into one that works for you instead of against you.

It’s time to have a plan for this holiday season!  I’ve called together a group of amazing therapists to help you prepare for how to manage an angry, sad or self-hating teen this winter.  (And they are ready and prepared to support your teen in Winter Coping Skills Camp too!  More at

Take some time for you and tune in to this video series for parenting teens.  In just a few short videos you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to cope ahead with holiday triggers that your teen may experience.  And you’ll likely learn at least a thing or two about how to create a stronger bond with your teen and help them manage their emotions on an ongoing basis too!

As a teen therapist, I know that adolescence can be a challenging time for my clients.  I support six groups of teens who all share similar struggles with anxiety, depression and/or self-harm behaviors.  And I want you as a parent to feel supported too.  

In this parenting support video series, you will learn:

·       How to peacefully communicate with your teen in a way that helps them make choices that are aligned with your family values
·       How to help your teen manage anger and disappointment in healthy ways that build self-esteem
·       How to help your teen go from self-loathing and critical to feeling strong and empowered
·       How to use self-soothing skills to help your teen manage anxiety and dis-ease
·       Why encouraging your teen to use the arts as a creative outlet is beneficial for both of you

To learn more about Winter Coping Skills Camp and to watch the parenting support video series, click here:

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