Illustration of a young person looking stressed - there is a thought bubble with words: eating in public, family dinners, family expectations, less alone time, final exams, etc.

Supporting young people through the holidays: 20 ways to help this season

The holidays: when both cheer and stress levels reach epic highs. Many young people are already struggling with mental health issues, and the season creates extra challenges. Gatherings can highlight family tensions, sleep and routines get disrupted, and normal sources of support (like school counselors and Camp Fire programming) aren’t as available. 

Child development experts emphasize the importance of setting realistic expectations for the holidays, sticking to a normal schedule as much as possible, getting time outside and practicing gratitude together. Simplifying gift-giving, practicing social skills before get-togethers, giving teens space to be moody are also solid strategies.  

What else can you help the young people in your life this winter? Use the same guidelines our staff and volunteers do to build strong relationships at Camp Fire! Follow the Search Institute’s framework for positive developmental relationships to bring some consistency and affirmation to the season. 

These tips are relevant whether you are trying to encourage kids and teens you are raising, related to, and/or in your wider chosen family. We’ve taken the Search Institute’s framework and given it a holiday twist below to create 20 ideas for supporting young people through the holidays. Let’s go! 

Express Care

  1. Be dependable: The holidays are no time to play the flakey funcle card. Follow through on your commitments. If you say you’re going to be there, be there!
  2. Listen: Join the kids’ table (metaphorically or literally) and have a real conversation. You might be surprised by what you learn!
  3. Believe in me: If you’re giving gifts for the holidays, consider one that feeds a young person’s sparks — the skills, commitments or qualities that are lighting them up right now. If you don’t know what they are into, ask!
  4. Be warm: Don’t forget to individually greet kids at your next holiday get-together. Make sure they know they are welcome and that you’re happy to see them, not just their accompanying adults. 
  5. Encourage: Specific compliments go a long way. Look for opportunities to call out a young person’s unique point of view, persistence, or character as you’re going about your holidays.

Challenge Growth

  1. Expect my best: Experts agree that the holidays are a good time to let the small stuff go. But when it comes to the big things — your community’s shared values, for example — keep standards high for yourself and young people. 
  2. Stretch: Helping a young person take their next spark step can be as simple as working on a robotics project after a holiday dinner, gifting a book one reading level up, or teaching them a new phrase in a language they are learning. 
  3. Hold me accountable: If you lose your seasonal cool, model how to deliver a timely, sincere apology and any necessary restitutions. Expect the same (in developmentally appropriate ways) from any young people you’re responsible for. 
  4. Reflect on failures: If a holiday event or activity doesn’t go as planned, debriefing calmly (and with humor, if possible!) can help young people learn failure is part of growing, not something to be scared or ashamed of. 

Provide Support 

  1. Navigate: Stressful holidays situations looming? Help young people brainstorm solutions and strategies to manage. 
  2. Empower: Get time with your favorite young person to ask what their goals are for the new year — and if there’s anything you can do to give them an assist.  
  3. Advocate: If any holiday gatherings have become potentially harmful for the young people in your life (if family members aren’t affirming of an LGBTQIA2s+ teen, for example), take action. If you’re the primary caregiver, you can set protective boundaries for your family, including not attending potentially harmful events. If you are an extended family member or friend, ask the young person how they’d like to be supported and make a plan for how you’ll intervene. (This Parents article has some great resources!)
  4. Set boundaries: If it’s within your control, set limits on the seasonal schedule. Help young people prioritize their favorite activities instead of getting overwhelmed. And keep sleep at the top of the to-do list! 

Share Power

  1. Respect me: If you’re getting resistance to a particular holiday tradition or gathering, stop and ask why. Even if you ultimately ask for their participation, try to clearly understand their concerns first and come to a fair solution. 
  2. Include me: Include kids and teens as you’re building your holiday schedule. What gatherings, activities or traditions mean the most to them? What are their priorities for the season? Give them a say in the decisions that affect them. 
  3. Collaborate: Can you create a new holiday tradition with the young people in your life? What fun, new December adventure can you come up with together?  
  4. Let me lead: Consider asking the kids and teens in your family if they’d like to lead a holiday activity traditionally headed up by an adult. What would change if the kids took over?

Expand Possibilities

  1. Inspire: Do you know a young person who shares some of your sparks? Can you schedule some inspiration time (a work tag-along or a hobby session) with them this holiday break? 
  2. Broaden horizons: Stuck in a holiday rut? Take the young people in your life on a mini-adventure. It could be as simple as visiting a new park or trying a new kind of food — the point is novelty! 
  3. Connect: Do you know a child or teen who hasn’t tried Camp Fire yet? Find an affiliate or program near you. There’s no better gift than helping a young person connect to nature, others and themselves!

December 7, 2023

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