While you're feeling overwhelmed with adult holiday stressors-such as cleaning, cooking or buying presents-your tween is experiencing his own version of holiday stress. Here are the major sources of holiday stress in preteens.
Holiday Stress From The Desire to Grow Up
Tweens have an intense need to grow up and be autonomous. Holidays fly in the face of this need because holiday traditions center mainly around young children. For instance, Halloween is associated with trick-or-treating while Christmas is associated with a kid sitting near a tree opening toys. These types of activities may now seem "childish" to your tween and he may want to skip them. He might fear that resisting, however, would upset you or other relatives, or that it may change the holidays too dramatically. This internal conflict is one source of tweens' holiday stress.
Longing For Childhood Can Create Holiday Stress
Even as tweens yearn to grow up, at the same time they mourn for their carefree childhood days. They still long to be your "little girl" or "little boy," but feel like they should have grown out of wanting that. Holidays bring these conflicted feelings to the surface more than any other time of the year. Holidays remind your tween of the role in family rituals she used to play as a child (such as, as the person who hunted for eggs on Easter morning). They also create confusion about what her role in the family traditions now are and may make her feel like she doesn't belong.
Jealousy of Younger Relatives Provokes Holiday Stress
As we've seen, tweens wonder whether to grow up or stay young and they struggle with their changing role in family traditions. So what happens when the holidays roll around and their younger sibling or cousin easily fits into the child-centered activities? Extreme jealousy. This jealousy can lead your tween to tease, ignore or even physically "punish" the younger relative. You may even see signs of increased jealousy in the weeks leading up to a holiday, as a tween begins to anticipate (although not consciously) their childhood role being taken over by someone else. A tween can experience a lot of stress due to this jealousy, especially since they think of jealousy as a "bad" emotion that they "should not" feel.
Loss of Routine Results in Holiday Stress
Family routines, including those surrounding mealtimes and bedtimes, are vitally important for healthy functioning of children and the family as a whole. These routines often get pushed aside during holidays because there's too much to do in too little time. In addition, social demands increase around the holidays, so your family may be eating and/or sleeping at odd times and places. These changes in routine can create great stress for everyone in the family.
A Parent's Own Holiday Stress is a Stressor
Children first learn how to act from watching their parents and other adults. If you always act frazzled, anxious and stressed surrounding holidays, it's likely your tween will, too. He will also fall victim to the effects of your high stress level, including increased family conflict, less quality time spent together and a greater chance of illness striking the household. All of this can add up to a great deal of holiday stress for your tween.
Rhode Island Department of Health, Office of Family, Youth and School Success. Tips on Raising Your Pre-teens and Teens: Managing Holiday Stress and the Blues. Accessed September 17, 2010: http://www.health.ri.gov/family/ofyss/teens/tips/Tip4.php