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How to Cope with Holiday Changes

Recently your mother-in-law passed away. She always visited during the holidays and enjoyed baking treats and bestowing gifts. The kids miss her a lot and no one feels like celebrating.

Festive Fix
Speak candidly with your kids about their grandmother and acknowledge feelings of sadness. "Teens tend to isolate themselves when they're grieving," says Maidenberg. "When parents verbalize their emotions, kids know they're not alone—and that there's an open door if they want to talk."

Reduce stress by paring down your to-do list and accept that you may not be able to celebrate in the usual ways. Say, "Since this year is our first year without Grandma, it's going to be different, and difficult, for all of us." Ask your family which traditions feel most meaningful—like decorating the tree or volunteering at a shelter—and skip the rest.

Try to find joy in the holiday amid your grief. Reassure your kids that it's okay to laugh and have fun, even if they feel down at times. Say, "Grandma loved Christmas and would be happy to know we are enjoying ourselves." Create a new family custom to honor her, such as lighting a candle in her memory, cooking one of her beloved dishes or sharing stories during the holiday meal.

It's a tradition—your entire extended clan gathers at your aunt's house for New Year's brunch. But your son has announced plans to spend the day with his girlfriend's family.

Festive Fix
While it may be upsetting that your teen wants to skip the big event, don't take it personally. As kids get older they become more interested in friendships and romantic relationships and prefer spending time without their parents, explains Kuczmarski.

That doesn't mean your teen gets a free pass. Let him know how you feel: "New Year's Day is special for our family. I look forward to everyone being together, and if you weren't there I would really miss you." Then come up with a compromise, such as requesting he have brunch at your aunt's before going over to his girlfriend's. Or invite her to join your family for part of the day.

By insisting your teen stick with tradition, you overlook what's important to him, which can cause friction. "Teens need a balance of structure and flexibility," says Kuczmarski. Start the new year by giving him a little space—now that's a resolution you can keep.

More Naughty Than Nice: Teens' Annoying Holiday Habits

  1. Texting friends under the table during the holiday meal
  2. Insisting on helping with cooking, then leaving the kitchen a mess
  3. Waiting until the last minute to do their shopping
  4. Updating their Facebook status from church
  5. Telling their younger cousins there isn't a Santa Claus

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.