Engaging Your Teen in the Holidays: 5 Tips

The holiday season typically involves many family involved moments and while most members of the family may find this to be a joyous time of year, teenagers can dismiss the holidays as anything but. Though it is a normal part of development for teens to seek out independence and prioritize time with friends, these five strategies can assist in keeping your teenagers’ engagement during the holiday season.

1.   Talk with them about their ideas of celebrating the holidays. 

Seek their input on activities, gifts, and food they’d like. Including them supports individual significance in the family. Refrain from passing judgment on what they consider ‘holiday fun’ and avoid imposing your ways of celebrating if it’s not their preference. 


  TIP:  Talk with them about the holidays, not “at them”.  Avoid asking

‘why’ they don’t want to engage and instead, ask them questions that support autonomy. This sounds like: 

 “Who, out of your friends, would you like to include (or not)?”

 “What traditions  are you interested in or want to start?”

 “Where do you want to spend your time off?”

 “When do you want to do xyz activity?”


 “How can I support you in engaging with the family?”

2.   Make room for their activities outside of holiday celebrations.

Your teens’ irritation with the holiday gathering could be because it infringes on something they planned to attend, or wanted to do. It is essential for them to understand the concept of prioritizing family commitments, but making space for their preferred activities can ease the stress of ‘required’ events. Allowing them time to themselves, or not attending may not be for every occasion, but taking the time to include their interests helps them to feel included in their own way.


 TIP:  Discuss, as a family, parts (or all) of the activities planned that are appropriate for your teen to skip.  If it is non-negotiable, discuss appropriate ways they can spend their time while at the function and time frames they might expect. 


Validating their feelings by saying something like, “I know you were looking forward to going to that movie with your friend. I appreciate you making time for this occasion” can help them feel understood versus given a directive.  If there is a way to compromise or adjust the planned activity, be open to discussing that.

3.   Give them options.

This age is notorious for the need to have a sense of control. Granting them some freedom in minor decisions could help to make them more likely to accommodate the major ones. If appropriate, give options. This might be asking if they want to decorate the house at a certain time of day or in a certain way.  Watching a holiday movie vs. joining in baking cookies. Attending one family function over another might be more important.


     TIP:  They might be encouraged to consider the needs of others and suggest doing something in the community.  Maybe they have something they are passionate about or want to try. Teens often display self-motivation alongside self-sacrifice. 


Teens often build their intrinsic motivation alongside self-sacrifice so compromising to include their own unique traditions can add more meaning to the holiday for everyone. This in turn, can lead to your teen wanting to be more involved naturally.

 4.   Pick your battles. 

Instead of bickering over every activity big and small or requesting they “have a better attitude”, acknowledge that it’s common for teens to not be enthusiastic about spending time with family. If it’s an activity that has significance, talk to them about it. However, allow yourself to let go of some issues—even if it means your teen won’t be present at every family event.


            TIP:  Be mindful of how much you bicker back.  Most times they just

    want to be heard or are going through something unrelated to the family.  

    Sharing how it makes you feel with them attending and reasoning helps them

    to hear a request versus hearing a demand.

 5.   Set your expectations ahead of time.

Good communication reduces conflicts and setting clear expectations in advance can keep expectations in the forefront of their mind. Touching base before an event reinforces their commitment and compromise will aid in supporting your teen being more understanding with the expectations discussed.


     TIP:  Saying something like, “I’d appreciate it if your phone is kept on silent and out of sight during the party”, or “I’m counting on you to be present and without a phone for at least three hours” can avoid confusion and frustration later on. They may not always agree with the expectations, but being clear on them is a crucial step in fostering understanding and cooperation.


Raising teens requires ebb and flow. Talking to them about what their life is like during the holidays might yield more understanding of their needs during this time. Just remember, the holidays are often fun, festive, and joyous, but they can also be stressful, difficult, and overwhelming for everyone.

Supporting your independent teen during the holidays may pose challenges, but approaching it with intention and mindfulness can significantly ease the stress that can come with holiday gatherings, making them joyous for all! 

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