S and how to prepare for FAMILY GATHERINGS
easonal gatherings with family and friends should be filled with love, admiration and respect for each other, yet too often holiday get-togethers dissolve into disagreements arguments. Some simple techniques can help stop the bickering and improve family dynamics.
set your expectations
Contentious issues like politics or climate change can turn things, but so can more personal concerns such as sibling rivalry among adults or money issues.
“Before you get to the holiday dinner table, think about what your expectations are,” said Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and host of the Kurre and Klapow Show (kandkshow.com). “Be realistic. Is it to have a good time celebrating together? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then disregard thoughts of getting into a contentious conversation.”
That’s easier said than done, but as an adult know that you have the ability not to engage, Klapow said. “Don’t allow yourself to be baited,” he said.
If you feel it’s necessary to enter into an argument, ask yourself why.
“Most people will say they’re standing up for themselves or their beliefs, but is a holiday gathering the right time?” Klapow asked.
Establish ground rules
Civil conversations can be had on difficult topics, but for the best results, move forward after a set of ground rules has been laid out, said Todd Schenk, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs. These can include: no personal attacks, be thoughtful in the language you use and non-verbal cues you send, describe your views while avoiding assumptions about others, and do not interrupt — only one person should speak at a time.
Differing opinions on social, political or personal issues are acceptable, and debate is OK, Schenk said. Problems emerge when things get personal, such as “If you don’t believe in climate change, you’re an idiot!”
“Don’t make it about the other person, their failures or shortcomings,” Schenk said.
Have an escape plan
It’s entirely acceptable to come prepared with what you will say, such as “I don’t want to talk politics,” so you will not be drawn into an argument, Schenk said. Know that you may get some eye-rolling or some pushback.
If it’s too much, be prepared with a plan of escape, Schenk said. That could be getting up for a coffee, to
play with nieces or nephews, or to watch a football game. Don’t leave in a huff; just politely excuse yourself. “It’s a temporary disengagement. You don’t have to control a situation. You don’t have to stop it, but you do have to control yourself,” he said.
Be neutral if nice is too hard
If there’s someone you’ve had a disagreement with in the past, a holiday gathering may not be the time to bury the hatchet, Schenk said. A simple “Hi, nice to see you” can keep things cordial.
If you do want to use the holidays to reconcile or make amends, don’t do it casually, Schenk said.
“Carve out some one-on-one time and pull the other person aside,” he said.
Pay attention to fatigue
A family gathering of three to five hours is a significant amount of social interaction.
“Pay attention to your own fatigue level. If you’re tired, if you ate too much or may have been drinking, it’s the wrong time to go for a deep conversation,” Schenk said.
While family members often feel they have to endure whatever happens, no one deserves to be picked on or attacked.
“Whoever is picking the fight is always in the wrong,” Schenk said.