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For many extended family members, the only time they have to spend and get to know their young family members is over the holidays and the time is often brief. From grandparents, to aunts, uncles, and cousins, this time is invaluable to discover what is on the minds and in the hearts of young children and even adolescents. To truly find out such answers, the interested family member needs to find ways to enter into their lives by joining in the child or adolescent’s interests or activities that they are comfortable doing.
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It is almost essential that the adult visiting family members consult with the parents of the child to find out what they are interested in; activities that they enjoy doing; and then demonstrate interest in such activities when visiting. For example, last year, on of our viewers here at San Diego 6 News wrote me to tell me that she always brings a “bag of tricks” with her when she visits her grandchildren over the holidays. Within her bag are items that she has found are liked and enjoyed by her grandchildren including drawing materials, puzzles, and two familiar board games. She told me that because she is attuned to their interests, the children readily play with her and teach her about their lives. Each year she then “updates” her bag based on changes that she had learned about not changes in their development.
Family outings are also great ideas as long as the activity has something for everyone. Making an adolescent go to a museum over the holidays, if they are not interested in museums, will elicit resistance and complaints, and will often ruin the trip for the rest of the family. Therefore, it is a good idea to find activities that all family members seem to enjoy and take a vote. If not everyone can agree, then taking activity turns is another option.
A common error that many adults make when interacting with children is trying to “make them” participate in some activity over the holiday that they do not either enjoy or understand. Although the intent is positive, it is better that with little time to bond, that the chosen activities are fun and interesting to the child.
Spending time with adolescent family members is another story. As most adolescents would much rather spend time with their friends, which is normal, finding activities that they will do with you may be difficult, but not impossible. Adults can “hang out” with adolescents as long as they do not ask them too many questions and try to find activities that they like to do, which are usually shopping or going to a movie. The reason here is that, they like “stuff” and a movie is a compromise in spending time together but not talking too much.
On a final note, try not to feel rejected by your young family members if you only visit them on holidays. Like everyone else, they may take some time to re-familiarize themselves with you and begin perhaps shy or resistant. Give them some time and remain positive and interested. In most cases, they will come around although it might be the last day of the holiday. But, be sure to enjoy that day.
Happy Holidays from all of us here at The Carmel Valley Life.
1. Join in their interests, not yours!
2. Do your homework – find out what they like to do.
3. Activities need to have something for everyone.
4. With adolescents, do NOT ask them too many questions. Tell them what you have heard about them.
5. Try NOT to feel rejected if they act shy or resistant at first.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to running a full-time private practice, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.