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When I was a young adult home for the holidays, my father used to call MY friends, “dirty hippies,” and then I would call HIS friends, “fascist pigs.”

As you can imagine, these communications did not improve our relationship – and, to be fair, both of us were wrong.

Getting together for the holidays is an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and strengthen ties with family and friends.

Unfortunately, all too often, common issues like these get in the way:

  • Intense political and/or religious differences about how we vote or what we believe.
  • Rude comments about parenting practices, how people look, what they eat, weight, etc.etc.
  • Disrespectful remarks about groups that other family members care about, such as: “I can’t stand THOSE people.” Or, “THOSE people are destroying our community.”
  • Re-telling of embarrassing jokes or stories from decades past – that you hated then and still hate now!
  • Perceived unfairness about everyone doing their share of helping to prepare a meal, clean up, or share costs.
  • Expecting payment – such as for a rental or restaurant – without getting agreement first.
  • Disagreeing about who to invite or not invite.
  • Refusing to accommodate individual food allergies, restrictions, and preferences.
  • Saying mean things about family members.

Instead of wishing or hoping things will be fine, be realistic and make a plan!

  • Make a list of what issues are likely to come up.
  • Be strategic about choosing what you plan to say or do to avoid conflict.
  • Identify and make a plan to manage your emotional “hot buttons”, which family members are all too good at pushing.
  • Practice your plan out loud – either with other people or on your own.

Here is how doing this worked for one family:

“I have an uncle who is always drinking too much and disrupting our holiday dinners with loud, pointless arguments and very hurtful remarks.

My parents, brother, sister-in-law, and I made a plan to put away all the hard liquor and avoid getting sucked in.

Before my uncle arrived, we practiced what we were going to do when he demanded more liquor or tried to start an argument.

When he got there and started some of his ‘party’ behaviors, we found ourselves looking at each other and smiling instead of getting upset!

We cheerfully helped each other to take charge of the conversation instead of feeling helpless. We all ended up having a much better time, including my uncle!”

Here are some strategies and skills you can practice that can help to prevent and reduce conflict and to improve relationships:

  • Accept that yelling at people and calling them names doesn’t change hearts or minds – it just causes stress and wastes time without making anything better.
  • Instead of focusing on differences, stay on your common ground with each other: family, friendship, support, caring, love, history.
  • Be OK with not fully understanding someone else’s experience or belief. Be gently curious instead of insisting on knowing “WHY?” about something that is another person’s belief, preference, choice, etc. – because you’ll never be satisfied with the answer!
  • Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to!!
  • Decide NOT to be intentionally provocative for the short time that you are with your family. Instead, be strategic about what you say and do, and with whom you say and do it. For example, even though you love your shirt with your favorite political slogan, you can choose not to wear it in ‘mixed’ company.
  • Protect yourself emotionally to avoid getting hurt feelings when someone is rude.
  • Manage your emotional triggers so you don’t say things you’ll regret later.
  • Interrupt and change the topic.
  • Set boundaries in ways that are clear, powerful, and respectful.
  • Lay the groundwork ahead of time for an early departure if needed. Be prepared to leave with kindness if things get too hard.
  • Choose not to take what someone says or does personally – it just makes you miserable without fixing anything.
  • Make relationship-building your focus, rather than needing to be “right.”
  • Discuss expectations ahead of time and agree on what is going to happen.
  • Set boundaries beforehand so that each person knows what to expect.

These additional resources include more skills and strategies you can use to reduce conflict, strengthen relationships, and increase harmony in family or community gatherings with people who are important to you:

Do you have any favorite holiday stories or strategies you might like to share anonymously? Or any requests for topics about issues you’d like help with? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us at safety@kidpower.org.

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Published: November 16, 2023   |   Last Updated: January 22, 2024

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.