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Help your youth transition after a holiday break

January 3, 2019

Jan blog 1

A holiday break can be a wonderful thing.Time off from school, activities or a part time job can offer teens a chance to reconnect with family and friends and relax after months of studying and hard work. However, for teens affected by depression, anxiety or other mental health challenges, the holidays can be difficult. Changes in schedule or environment, parties, new faces and different foods can be more disruptive than fun and trigger mental health symptoms. 

Usually lasting between 2- 4 weeks, holiday breaks can be particularly difficult. The breaks are often just long enough for youth to fall out of their normal routines only to be expected to jump back into school or other activities, just as they were starting to adjust. For many, the hardest part of the holidays, is the transition back into their everyday lives. Youth with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate and learn new material in class, those with social anxiety may dread being away from family or returning to a situation where they have few friends and feel unsupported.

Youth with trauma in their past may find the transition especially difficult.

“When our residential youth come back from a home visit they often act out in a way that indicates there were difficult situations with their families while on the break. We have to let them know we’re ready to listen, whenever they’re ready to talk.”
Dr. Josh Lepore, Casa Pacifica Director of Clinical Services.

The key to helping your teen transition from an extended break back to their normal routine is planning. Look ahead and start the transition early. Don’t wait until the night before to reach out to your youth and work out a plan.

Reestablish a healthy sleep schedule - After weeks of sleeping in, staying up late with friends or watching late night movies with family, put back in place an acceptable curfew and bed time to make sure your youth is rested when they head back to school. Start the process a few days before break is over so they aren’t exhausted and out of sorts on their first day back.

Reestablish healthy eating habits - Holiday sweets and traditional holiday meals can be enjoyable, but they can also throw off digestion and body chemistry resulting in feelings of sluggishness physically and mentally. Similar to healthy sleeping habits, a few days before break is over try to serve healthy meals at home. Have fruits and healthy snacks available and encourage your teen to skip heavy leftover holiday treats and eat lighter, healthier foods.

Create a holiday memory book – This can be a fun family activity that also encourages communication. Help your teen recount and share the positive memories from the holiday break to help them organize and come to terms with their experiences. Include photos and stories that can be shared with friends or classmates to encourage engagement as they reacquaint with people they haven’t seen in a while.

Make a family schedule - Sit down with your teen and a calendar to make a visual record of expectations, routines and upcoming events. This can help ease anxiety and give a reference point of things to come so there are no surprises that may cause your teen anxiety.

Communicate - Sit down with your teen a few days before the end of the holiday break to see how they are doing. Encourage them to talk about any fears or anxiety they may be feeling. Reach out to their teachers or treatment team to advise them of any concerns or reestablish regular communications.

Holiday breaks can mean fun, celebrations and a chance to rest and recharge. Parties, friends, food and staying up late can be great fun but can also feel disruptive to some. Knowing your teens challenges, planning and communication can help families navigate the holiday season. In addition, taking small steps to ease back into day to day routines can make the transition easier for youth that may experience mental health symptoms.