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Have you ever had a family gathering where everything was going great until someone did something mean, others got upset, and a good time turned into a mess? I sure have!!!!

This short video shares 3 of the lessons I’ve learned, and the article below gives more ideas and resources.

Once, after a few important but challenging family gatherings, I started asking other people what their feelings were about family gatherings – and got a host of interesting remarks. My favorite: “I love my family to pieces – and break out in hives every time we get together!”

Imagine how much more smoothly things would go – and how much more fun we could have – if we could just remember these 3 tips for preventing arguments:

1. Don’t take things personally!

What other people say or do might be rude, insulting, thoughtless, or inconvenient. We might disagree strongly about their political or other beliefs. We might be sick and tired of hearing repetitions of embarrassing, inaccurate, or downright untrue jokes or stories from the past.

Feelings of annoyance, hurt, anger, sadness, shock, disbelief, shame, blame, or outrage are normal – and, hanging on to those feelings will only make us miserable without making anything better.

We often can’t control what others say or do or think – and we CAN learn to decide that their behavior is not going to let us ruin a good time. We can use Kidpower’s Emotional Safety skills to protect our feelings and decide to stay peaceful and focused on our goals of making the gathering successful and enjoying what there is to enjoy.

If needed, we can then make decisions about what, if anything, to do, such as:

  • pretending we didn’t hear or notice anything.
  • watering what we want to see grow by ONLY paying attention to positive behavior.
  • choosing to feel compassion instead of outrage.
  • setting a boundary in an objective way without attacking character, intelligence, or intentions.
  • accepting that someone’s past trauma, poor boundaries, or memory loss might make it hard for them to act differently or to apologize.
  • avoiding further engagement in a discrete way, which brings us to the next tip…

2. Interrupt and Change the Subject.

We don’t HAVE to answer or keep listening when someone goes on and on about beliefs that we find deeply offensive, or lectures about the state of the world in a deeply depressing way, or insists on providing unwanted and often rude advice.

We don’t HAVE to keep listening to comments or keep answering questions about work or school or how much money someone makes or what they look like or eat or wear or how much they weigh.

Instead, using a kind and clear manner and voice, we can interrupt someone mid-sentence and change the subject by saying things like:

  • “Excuse me! I don’t want to waste our precious time together talking about politics – let’s play chess!”
  • “Excuse me! I need to help someone with something.” (and then leave)
  • “Excuse me. I’ve been meaning to ask. How’s your cousin doing?”
  • “Excuse me. I’ve heard you. Thank you for caring. Have you seen any good movies lately?”

A parent once told me that her teens really didn’t want to sit at the table for dinners with extended family or old family friends because of intrusive questions and unwanted advice.

Especially some older family members would say things like “Uh, do you really want to eat that pie? You need to watch your weight, you know. … How are your grades? You need to work harder. … What are your career plans? You really need to plan for the future, you know. … Etc. etc. etc!!!”

On the phone, I told this mom that she could give her kids permission to interrupt and change the subject in a polite and firm way. I had her practice with me so she could practice with them.

I started saying, “Blah. Blah. Blah. What is THIS? … You really OUGHT to do THAT! …” and coached her to interrupt me mid-flow and say, “Excuse me! I don’t want to talk about THIS. I’d love to know about your vacation.”

Later, she wrote to say the strategy had worked! Her kids were much happier about family dinners once they knew how to stop unpleasant conversations they didn’t want to have.

3. Be true to your best self.

Think strategically about what is most important to you rather than focusing on your unhappiness about someone’s behavior or your upset feelings of the moment.

Try not to sweat the small stuff. Remember that life is too short, and people are often far more vulnerable than they seem to be.

Try not to make symbols out of behavior or to fix old wounds – and just stay in the moment with what IS.

Rather than reacting out of bitterness or hanging on to resentment, make choices that will help you to sleep better at night.

If you choose to go to a family gathering, what do you most want from this time together? What CAN you say and do – and NOT say or do – that’s going to achieve your goals?

Most of us want to feel that we did our best and were true to our values in dealing with our families.

Staying true to your best self will be different depending on the problem and might mean that you decide to:

  • forgive the other person and let your upset feelings go. Forgiving someone does not mean you are condoning their behavior.
  • apologize for your part in whatever went wrong.
  • put in safeguards or make a different plan in order to protect your children or yourself.

Most of us just want to have peaceful, happy relationships with the people in our lives – and with our extended families– at least for that short time that we’re together at the holidays!

Here are some additional resources that can help:



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Published: December 21, 2021   |   Last Updated: December 21, 2021

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.