Supporting Children and Teens This Holiday Season: Tips for adults who aren’t their parents


Will you be around any children or teens this holiday season?  Yes?  This blog is for you!!!

The Backdrop

It has been a rough 21 months for all of us.  For kids and teens, the pandemic has impacted a huge percentage of their lives.  When you have been alive 660 months (me at age 55) then 21 months is just a drop in the bucket.  However, for a 5-year-old, the pandemic has affected over a third of their life.  Teens, whose developmental job is to shift their focus to their friends, have missed major milestones… school proms, graduations, etc.  This pandemic has taken a great toll on the young people in our lives so let’s give them a break this holiday season.

The Plan

Instead of lecturing the kids/teens on how to interact with adults this holiday season, let’s shift the responsibility to the adults in their lives!  Here are some ways that you can support the children and teens in your life… especially if you are not their parents.

Tips to Support Young Kids and Teens

1- Greet them with respect

Kids: Ask their parents what name they use so you can greet them properly.  If you are able, squat down to their eye level.  Remind them of who you are and what your name is.  Ask if they would like to hug you, give you a high five, or wave.  Please don’t ever insist a child touch or hug you and don’t touch or hug them without asking their permission.

Teens: Ask them if you should call them their given name or if there is a name they would rather you use for them.  Remind them of who you are and what your name is.  Add in your pronouns if you feel comfortable doing so.  If they choose to share their pronouns, do your best to use them correctly.  Please don’t tease them or give them back-handed compliments (for example, don’t say “I thought I would never see your eyes again since they are always glued to that phone”).  Please don’t ever comment on their appearance or what they are eating.

2- Orient them to your space

Kids: Where is the bathroom?  Are there snacks and how do they find them?  Are there toys they can play with?  Screens? Are there activities planned just for them?  Help them know what to expect during the social event or visit.

Teens: Is there somewhere in the house they can go to hang out with the other teens?  Is there somewhere they can go to be alone if they need a break from social interactions?  Tell them the important parts of the event when you really want their undivided attention (for example, when the young kids are opening presents or during the meal).  Being on their phone could help them emotionally regulate if they are overwhelmed so tell them ahead of time when you want them to put it down.

3- Talk to them about things that interest them

Kids: Ahead of time, ask their parents what their favorite things are and “Google” them.  Watch 15 minutes of Daniel Tiger or read of summary of the most recent Junie B Jones book.  If you are a family member, kids love to hear stories about their parents when they were little.

Teens: Ahead of time, ask their parents what their favorite things are and “Google” them.  Learn about D & D or competitive cheerleading.  Ask questions and pay attention to the answers.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a lot of conversation, the point is to let them know you are interested in them and you care enough to try to get to know them.  They are going to feel seen and respected if you ask about their current campaign or how much time they practice every week instead of the usual “how’s school”?  Asking about romantic relationships can be a landmine but if you must go there, at least ask in an inclusive way.  Instead of “do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend (which assumes things about their sexuality that might not be accurate), ask “do you have a romantic interest”.

4- Consider their physical health and wellness

Kids: Have fun snacks that aren’t full of sugar (the sugar crash along with all the excitement can result in serious melt downs).  If the event is family focused (as opposed to an adult party where kids are allowed), schedule it from 4-6 pm instead of 6-8 pm so bedtime routines aren’t disrupted.

Teens:  Ditto on the sugar.  Ditto on the schedule.  Remember, their developmental task is to turn towards their friends.  You will likely get bonus points for being the coolest aunt if your event still allows them to meet up with their friends later.

What are your ideas for supporting children and teens this holiday season??



About Author

Lisa Allred

Work Life Program Manager

Lisa Allred comes to SAS with a long history of working with families throughout the lifespan. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest Universtity and her Masters in Social Work from UNC-CH, her career began as a child therapist focusing on parenting, anxiety and trauma. She then moved into college counseling where she emphasized student wellness and balance.

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