For many, family gatherings around the holidays come with stressful, awkward conversations that can tarnish the cheer. Between politics, personal lives, and the past, there are plenty of reasons for feeling uncomfortable at family gatherings—but with the right tools, you can learn how to disagree respectfully, avoid arguments and hurt feelings, and teach kids about empathy and tolerance.
Kids constantly soak up clues about how to feel and behave from the adults around them. When a child’s parents and relatives show respect for each other’s backgrounds and points of view, they set a strong example of how to treat others. Especially if you’re planning to spend any time around kids this season, use our top 10 tips to navigate holiday dinners and gatherings graciously.
No one knows how to push our buttons quite like family. After all, they’ve had a lifetime of experience! When entering a family gathering, remind yourself to stay calm and confident. Take a few minutes before entering a potentially hectic space to clear your head and decide how you want to respond to criticism or negativity—use a positive attitude to set the tone and influence any kids who may be listening.
Keep Your Head Up
Letting children play an active role in family dinner conversation is a great way to avoid heated topics while also helping them feel included. Kids don’t usually want to talk about which political party family members are voting for in 2020 or the latest upsetting news story, so you’ll be more likely to avoid those touchy subjects altogether.
Include Kids in the Conversation
Another tactic is to take controversial topics off the table in advance of a holiday gathering. If your relatives tend to fight about religion, politics, or past family feuds, insist on a strict policy regarding those subjects. Choose a code word to reset things if they start to get out of hand, or politely remind the other adults about your agreement if a sensitive subject gets brought up.
Plan a Conflict-Free Gathering
In life’s toughest situations, like after a loss, it can feel like there’s nothing you can say to help. But avoiding talking about a recent death, illness, hardship, or similar incident can actually do more harm than good, especially if the event directly impacts a child’s life. During these difficult times, it’s important to be there for kids and bring your family together to offer love, support and security for those who are struggling.
Handle Hard Subjects with a Soft Heart
We all have that one relative who loves a good argument. When they start provoking people at the dinner table, act unfazed. Instead of fueling the fire, opt to not react at all so everyone can return to enjoying their holiday meal in peace. Help change the subject, or engage the victim of the personal attack in a different conversation. Use these challenges to set an example of how to control anger so kids see you don’t need to engage with an overly argumentative or bullying person.
Don’t Take the Bait
Your friends and family members are entitled to their beliefs, even if you strongly disagree with them. Accept that you aren’t going to change their minds over the holiday dinner table. Model tolerance for any children present by not getting into a yelling match about why they’re wrong and you’re right. By choosing this approach, you’re teaching kids that you can disagree with someone and still remain friendly and polite.
Accept that You Can’t Change People’s Beliefs
Keep the mood light and the kids happy by planning fun activities for everyone to enjoy, both inside and outside the home. Some festive holiday-themed ideas include making ornaments together, watching a seasonal movie, building a snowman, door-to-door caroling, or enjoying an outdoor sport, like ice skating or hockey.
Suggest Fun Holiday-Themed Activities
If someone starts an uncomfortable conversation, gently but quickly steer the group away from it. To set a good example of how to handle an awkward situation, bring up a new topic in a respectful, kind manner. There’s no need to add extra tension by scolding an individual for their misstep in front of everyone.
Change the Subject
If you begin to feel agitated or upset, take a breather. Go for a walk around the block or find an errand to run so you have a moment to calm down and regroup. If your child starts to get frustrated, help them model healthy ways to deal with these feelings by inviting them to join you on a walk or suggesting another calming activity to do together.
Exit the Space
Everyone puts their foot in their mouth sometimes. If you’ve said something that offended a family member or hurt their feelings, make the effort to sincerely apologize, and do it in front of your kids. By saying you’re sorry, you’re teaching kids an important lesson to admit when you’re wrong and to make amends. Remember, it’s more important to have an enjoyable gathering than to win a silly argument.
Admit When You’ve Said the Wrong Thing
Above all else, the holidays are a time to celebrate as a family and enjoy your friends and loved ones for who they are, differences and all. In the complicated world we live in, approaching life with an open heart, mind, and ears sets an important example.
Kids look to the caring adults in their lives for positive examples of how to handle conflict, work through awkward and uncomfortable conversations, and show respect for the people they encounter. Carry these tips into the holiday season and the new year beyond so you can be the model you want your kids to have.