Suffolk counsellor’s tips for a hassle-free family Christmas

Empathy is key in ensuring a harmonious and hassle-free Christmas this year, says teen counsellor Alicia Drummond Picture:...

Empathy is key in ensuring a harmonious and hassle-free Christmas this year, says teen counsellor Alicia Drummond Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ahead of the festive period East Bergholt-based Huddl and its experts are putting together a series of talks to help make life easier this year.

Alicia Drummond is a counsellor, and the founder of Teen Tips. She works with families and schools, helping support the...

Alicia Drummond is a counsellor, and the founder of Teen Tips. She works with families and schools, helping support the mental health of young people Picture: Alicia Drummond - Credit: Archant

Christmas can prove stressful for many families at the best of times – but with Covid still very much in all of our lives, this year will certainly be one to remember.

Alicia Drummond is an accredited counsellor with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, parent coach, speaker, author and mother. She is also the founder of Teen Tips, an online training school for school staff and parents which focusses on supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

With over a decade’s worth of experience, she has been working alongside Huddl, and has a number of tips to help parents and their teenagers co-exist in harmony, with the aims of ensuring everyone has a stress-free festive season this year.

Alicia notes that even though the current government guidelines in England mean that up to three households can mix for a five-day period over Christmas, it’s teenagers who may still feel especially isolated due to not being able to see their friends during the holidays.

“I think the biggest issue will be the fact we’ve been given these guidelines, but for a teenager, developmentally, they’re meant to be out with their friends. They’re at that age where they’re starting to separate a bit from the family, and that’s why friendship groups are so important. A lot of teenagers will want to meet up with their friends and let their hair down, but it’s going to be very difficult for them as they’re not be able to do that.”

With teenagers having spent more time out of the classroom than in it this year, what are some of the long-term effects of not socialising during those key developmental years?

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“I think it’s going to be very interesting further down the line to see what the long-term implications of lockdown are, but it absolutely goes against the developmental drive for autonomy and independence that helps teenagers find their identity.

“As a teenager, the way their brains are wired means they’re more socially anxious at that stage in life than at any other, and if you have a big period of not socialising, that could increase levels of social anxiety going forwards.”

While Alicia is thankful that many schools reopened earlier this year, she stresses how imperative it is that teenagers have social experiences outside of their educational settings.

“I think it would’ve been a disaster to keep children and teenagers out of school any longer – but school is a very different environment to meeting your friends outside of it. You also have to remember that schools are in bubbles, meaning teenagers are only able to mix with a reduced percentage compared to usual. For some of them, this works, but if your teenager has ended up in the wrong bubble, they could feel more isolated than previously.”

So how can parents make sure Christmas is as comfortable and happy for everyone involved, especially their teenagers who may be feeling particularly fragile and isolated at the time of year?

“Empathy is key, especially this year. It will be hard for teenagers not being able to do what they usually do during the Christmas holidays, so by working together as a family, you can ensure it is enjoyable as possible. Firstly, ask your teenagers for their input - ask them how you can support them, and how they’re feeling. Letting them know you’re there for them is so important.

“It’s always good to set out your plans before the big day – managing expectations before the Christmas period is a great way to avoid conflict. Also, dividing up the labour over Christmas is a great way to help reduce any conflicts, so that way one person isn’t doing everything.”

Alicia recommends that parents also implement a ‘screen contract’ over the festive period, ensuring that families still enjoy some face-to-face time together, even once the table has been cleared after Christmas lunch.

“I always see a screen contract as not stating how long they can be on their phones for, but rather when they can’t. So for instance, you might set out that your teenagers can have their phones between 10am and 2pm, but not outside of those hours. Think of it as a screen break for them, rather than policing it. That way, you’re putting in boundaries but still giving them time on their phones.

“I find that when talking to parents, screens and technology tend to be the cause of most family conflicts. Instead, do something that gets everyone involved, such as playing board games or card games.”

Finally, while alcohol might seem like a great way for everyone to let their hair down, it can often lead to conflict. “Teenagers are wired to experiment – but alcohol is very harmful to the teenage brain as it’s still developing, so be sure to discuss with any adults in the house how you’re going to handle any requests regarding Christmas drinks. The more you can do in advance, by setting up those expectations, will hopefully lessen the intensity of any emotions that teenagers will be feeling this year.”

On Monday December 7, Alicia will be delivering a Huddl Parent Talk between 9.30am and 11am, entitled ‘Family Life and Covid-19’. She will be exploring a range of techniques to help parents manage their children’s anxiety, increase self-confidence and reduce the risk of family conflict.

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