How Not to Revert to Your 16 Year-Old Self Around Family During the Holidays

Korin Miller
Woman in Winter
Photo: STYLECASTER/Getty Images

There are some definite pros and cons to seeing family around the holidays. Obviously, it’s great to catch up and (not gonna lie) have someone else do the cooking. But there’s also a tendency for everyone to go back to their old roles in the family—and that can include everyone treating you like a kid.

Just know this: It’s totally normal. “We all regress when we are around family for the holidays,” says David Klow, licensed marriage and family therapist, founder of Chicago’s Skylight Counseling Center and author of the upcoming book You Are Not Crazy: Letters from Your Therapist. “The most powerful and competent among us turn into reactive teenagers when we are around family.”

It makes sense on some level, says licensed clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of Should I Stay or Should I Go? You may be back in your childhood home, surrounded by your old things, and doing family traditions you’ve done since you were a kid, and it’s just kind of an automatic response that you’ll feel like a teenager again. “The holidays are particularly evocative, so even if your family doesn’t live in your childhood community, the traditions, songs, and smells can take you back to an earlier time and you can easily slide back into those regressed patterns,” she says.

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It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling like a giddy kid again can be awesome around the holidays. But it can also suck when you find yourself exploding after your little brother teased you about your new bangs. “Regression may be more likely if you live far away from parents or siblings,” says psychologist Paul Coleman, Psy.D., author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is In Pieces. “We have a tendency to respond emotionally to a situation in a similar way we last responded—so if visits are infrequent there is less of an opportunity to create new memories and develop new emotional patterns.”

It makes sense that you wouldn’t want to fall into this trap. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t act like a kid again when you go home for the holidays.

Take a Beat to Remember Who You are Now

That is, a strong, capable, self-sufficient adult—not a kid. “Taking steps to ground yourself in who you are apart from your family can make it much easier to be close to loved ones without losing yourself over the holidays,” Klow says. If someone says something that pisses you off or strikes a chord, take a sec and think about this before you respond.

Cool it on the Alcohol

Sure, it can be tempting to dive into the eggnog when grandma grills you on your 5-year baby-making plan, but try to limit how much you drink. “Alcohol can facilitate regression, or at least disinhibition,” says Durvasula. Basically, you’re way more likely to backslide if you have too much.

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Do Something New

That can mean a lot of different things, per Coleman: If you always sit in the same chair at dinner, mix it up and sit somewhere else. If you always sit back and let others prep the food or set the table, help out. Changing things up this way can help you feel different, and less likely to act like a kid again.

Spend Time with Mature Family Members

If you know you tend to act like a kid when you’re around your sister, try to spend a little more time with your parents, grandparents, or anyone in the family you think of as mature. “You might rise to their level,” Coleman says.

Take on an ‘Adult’ Role

In most families, the “adults” do stuff like cook dinner and host, but if you really want to establish yourself as one of the grown-ups, offer to do one of these things, Durvasula says. Maybe you can bring the turkey, supply the wine, or even host at yours (if you’re up for it). It can help remind you that you are an adult.