I worked last Friday and it was evident from many of the youth and families that I saw that, after a week off school, nerves were starting to fray – and there is still one week of vacation to go! I decided to get advice from the youth I was seeing about how families can make their holiday time together more special. Here, in their own words is the advice I received from the youth I saw last week:

“Parents could have kids cook a special meal over the holidays – just not Christmas dinner, and they shouldn’t tell their kid what to make.”

“A family can try something they’ve never tried before – like a completely different kind of food, or watch a TV show none of them has ever seen.

“You can’t give a kid new electronics and then expect them not to use it!”

“Invite another family over for a meal with holiday food who doesn’t celebrate that holiday. It’s really interesting if you do research on why a certain food is eaten for the holiday – like why do we eat turkey at Christmas or latkes at Chanukkah.”

“Have a rule that your mother has to stop talking about how unhealthy the food is – especially when she made most of it.”

“Have everyone write out one thing they want to do all together on the holiday, put all the suggestion in a container and pick a new one to do each day. The suggestions can’t be chore, like cleaning your room.”

Many of the items listed by my advisors are activities that have been proven to build stronger families. For example, trying something no one has ever done before puts everyone in the family at the same level. Working out how to learn sketching with your parents and brother when none of you really draws can help everyone to see each other differently.

Preparing a meal with holiday foods for a family that has never celebrated that holiday can help a family to be grateful for the traditions they have developed together. This can be an especially powerful experience if grandparents are present.

As for all that “unhealthy” food, many of us only eat these foods once during the year. As much as I like latkes, I never make them except at Chanukkah, and each year, I make cookies that no one ever expects, except at Christmas.

Both latkes and cookies are an indulgence, but the latkes remind me of the one holiday meal my father always made, and the cookies are my Irish grandmother’s recipe. Honouring traditions like these improves the mental health of every family member.


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