Survival Guide: Kids Home for the Holidays

Your college kids are coming home soon. You miss them but also know that things can go off the rails pretty easily. So what does a conscientious parent do? Here is your quick survival guide.

1. Establish Expectations

Yes, they are over 18. Yes, they have important social events they need to attend. But no, if they are at home for the holidays, they need to follow some basic rules. First day home – have the conversation with the following expectations (or your own): No drugs in the house. No romantic sleep-overs. In the house by 12:00am. Clean up after themselves. These sound like obvious behaviors or rules that you shouldn’t need to discuss but, trust us, it’s better to have the drill-sergeant conversation at the beginning of their visit rather than the 23 awkward comments and hints throughout the holidays.

2. Respect their Social Life

This means that they will be gone from 1:00pm when they wake up till 12:00am when they respectfully return home at curfew (see above expectations). If you already had the agreement they would attend all the family stuff like dinners and visits, let them have control over their free time. Here’s the exception: If you think they are abusing drugs and alcohol (and I mean abusing) or engaging in really unsafe behavior like drunk driving, you have every right to shut it down and ‘remind’ them about your house rules and expectations.

3. Find Balance

You definitely don’t want them stuck at home 24/7 (their sulking and texting will drive you nuts) but you also don’t want them MIA for the 4 weeks they’re home. Talk with your kid their first day home your intention to strike a balance between their social needs and all the fabulous family activities you have planned. If they were younger, we’d want you to get their feedback but ultimately call the shots. Since they are older, it’s totally appropriate (and way more effective) to get their input.

The holidays can be a good time for family to enjoy time together. It’s a great time to practice some effective boundary setting and relationship building.

When Your Teen is in Treatment During the Holidays – What to Do?

Sometimes, your teen is stuck in residential treatment right through some of the biggest family holidays which makes it tough for everyone. Below are some simple solutions for how to include your acting-out teen in your holidays and let them know they’re not alone.

1. Video Chat: This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many of our clients   don’t ask (and are not offered by the treatment facility) for access to some sort of video chat solution. Since we assume you both have iPhones, you could set up Facetime on a specific date/time when family and friends will be around the home. Then there are options like Google Voice (and Video Chat). Free, easy and comes as part of most Google apps accounts now. Then you have your classic video services like Skype and ooVoo. If you own your own business and use GoToMeeting, this is another great solution which also means you can invite others to join in even when they’re somewhere else.

2. YouTube Greetings Card: Send your friends and family free greeting cards and youtube birthday cards. These funny e cards made with flash animation are the perfect way to do something different to show you care. Send one of these free online greeting cards to someone and make them smile (or cry) or post it on their facebook.

3. E Cards: While this is still an online solution, it’s moving towards a more traditional format. These cards require your teen to have access to their email account or Facebook. Our favorite e cards come from Funny and irreverent, they will definitely make your son or daughter pause and smile. Here are some other e card options (just to be fair); Blue Mountain and E-Cards.

4. Holiday Cards: Now we are full-tilt traditional…paper. You knew it was coming. But there is something really special about getting a card in the mail, especially when your son or daughter has been in treatment for months. Here are some nice options for putting together something meaningful from the family; Use iPhoto and create your own card. Your family could take several pics during a gathering and then you upload them (or is it download?) into an iPhoto greeting card, calendar or small book that actually gets printed and sent. Hallmark also has similar product.

5. Care Package: Not your old-fashioned wrapped nuts and fruits in a wicker basket. We also are not talking about ordering something online. Get together several simple, small items your teen would like or need and put into a creative container like a Nalgene, metal tins, small metal bucket or nice little tupperware. Make sure you send things that comply with the facility’s rules (ie. no pocket knives, candles). If they are very residential-based, an   iTunes card along with small picture frames and 3M hanging hooks might be a nice little gift. Wilderness based? Send them things like lip balm, glove liners, nice socks. There are plenty of little nick-nacks at REI.

6. Surprise Visit: This only works, obviously, if their treatment schedule allows. It’s normally best to have family stay at a local hotel and surprise your teen rather than surprising them with bringing them home for the holidays. Before you go – Check with the facility and coordinate with the clinicians and treatment team to ensure they are totally aware of your plans. Don’t show up and wing-it. Plan out the trip and make it a short trip (like two days). Find local interesting destinations and schedule things tightly so there isn’t too much down time. If you have a case manager, they can act as a concierge and help coordinate not only your travel plans but also work with the facility to make sure they’re on board.

Finally, don’t feel like you owe your teen something special during the holidays. More than likely, they made some pretty bad choices to get them in treatment and this is the consequence of their actions – being away from friends and family they love. This is also a good thing for them to long for home. Hopefully, this will help motivate them to stay focused on changing their behavior and get back quickly.