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Keeping the Holidays Magical: Adapting to Christmas with Teens

I’ve always been a Christmas nut, but not in the way that is most expected or even acceptable these days. I’m not one to put a lot of time or effort into decorating or baking or holiday cards. For me, it’s all about the gifts and keeping the holidays magical.

I Want To Give Good Gifts

I know that reads as materialistic. But I hope you can understand that to me, gifts are an act of love. I spend a lot of time (too much time probably … spreadsheets are involved) thinking about the recipient and how my gift might reflect our special relationship, their best qualities, and my deep appreciation for them. My favorite people in the world to buy gifts for are my son and daughter.

Sadly, last year Christmas fell flat at my house. At age 10 and 12, my kids were in that middle ground. The space between little children and teenager left all of us perplexed and ripe for Christmas disappointment. My grown-up gifts, intended to make them feel proud and mature, left them feeling disappointed. My fun, child-like gifts, meant to delight them, left them feeling … well, equally disappointed.

My kids were polite and gracious with every misbegotten Lego set or fuzzy bathrobe. But I could tell they were far from dazzled. It was a classic middle school identity crisis for all of us.

This Year’s Christmas Gift Plan

This year, I’m approaching the gift-giving season a little differently. First, I’ve explained my conundrum to my kids. I want them to know that I’m putting in the same effort I always have toward choosing something special for them. I’m hearing their suggestions with the understanding that I’m operating with a budget. Because expectations are high for them (and me!), it helps to talk honestly before hand.

Second, we’re volunteering together at a local after school program for children of immigrants and this year we’re shopping for those kids together. Enlisting older kids in “playing Santa” for kids in need is a perfect way to carry the magic of holidays into adolescence. I hope to pass on my love of gift giving in this new tradition. This may be my best gift yet.

My goal: keeping the magic in the holidays for teens.

Michelle Icard is the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years. Learn more about her work with middle schoolers and their parents at

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