Coping with Difficult Family Situations during the Holidays
By Kayla Kressler

All families are different, and all families have their own unique set of challenges and demands. Before you gather this holiday season, we recommend taking some time to think through those situations and consider steps you can take to make this time most enjoyable.

For some, family conflict and related stress may create an environment of tension, stress, and a level of worry that too greatly intervenes. Many of us decide to spend holidays with our family of choice, close friends, neighbors, or colleagues. If you can relate, give yourself permission to limit time spent with loved ones to phone calls, dessert, and coffee, or grabbing a bite to eat on neutral ground outside of the home or shared space.

Whatever your needs and options – try to prioritize a few key principles.

1. The holiday is about quality time. Try to use what you’ve got and focus on making it all count, especially for children.

2. Kids learn from the behavior that is modeled to them. By eliminating yelling, arguing, blaming, and tension – all loved ones are given the opportunity to replace presents with presence.

3. Safety first – for kids and adults. If family frustrations run so high that there is any risk of emotional and physical neglect to children – come up with a plan B and keep it simple. Maybe it’s best to plan smaller gatherings, or drop-ins if it is in the best interest of everyone’s emotional wellbeing.

Here are a few more tips for caregivers on practicing wellness and keeping kids grounded during stressful holiday encounters:
It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, checking your perception is key, just like choosing your battles. Try to adjust your attitude about holiday gatherings and interactions with family. Just like our day to day life demands – walking into work, approaching a new project or experience, confronting a conflict – can be greatly impacted by a bad attitude, the same is true in cases like family visits. Try to lean into thoughts that can help ease worry and defensiveness, and before and after the event practice self-care to alleviate stress and negative emotions. Keep in mind the qualities you do find and appreciate in your loved ones and extended family.
• Form an agreement with self or others. Some topics and discussions just have no place at the table, under the tree, or during the holiday season. Establishing boundaries for yourself and others can keep any vernal irritants at bay. Practice redirecting discussions that feel like personal intrusions or attacks by stating “I would like to focus on all of us being together today,” or “I would prefer not to talk about that today,” and move on.
• Don’t add fuel to the fire. Overindulging in alcohol often turns up the heat on tense situations. Try to avoid this by either limiting your intake or avoiding drinking all together – especially if kiddos are present. If you are a person in recovery, have a back up plan, support numbers on speed dial, and a reason to leave. It’s always okay to let close friends know where you will be and for how long – this will give you time to check in and be accountable throughout the day.
Stay accountable. When it comes to difficult situations, usually the only thing we can truly control is our behavior. Accept the things you cannot change and hold yourself accountable for your behaviors and engagement. Sometimes the best we can do is manage our own reactions.
• Breathe. You might be surprised! Sometimes stepping away, going outside for a brisk walk, standing in the cool air, or having an ice-cold beverage can help lower blood pressure and refocus our otherwise racing minds and emotional thermostats. Take breaks and try to take one moment at a time.

Kayla Kressler is the Chief Operating Officer at the Pa Family Support Alliance.

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Looking Out for Kids during the Busy Holiday Season

By Haven Evans


We are in the midst of the busiest time of year with Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza, and the New Year quickly approaching. While the holidays are festive and a time to celebrate, parents are being pulled in a million different directions. In addition to a regular work schedule, there are work and family get-togethers to attend; kids have parties and recitals at their schools; and there are what seem to be endless shopping trips for presents.

As a result of these activities, many parents are faced with the decision of when to leave a child home alone. The holidays throw a wrench into many families’ schedules, and parents often find themselves questioning whether they can leave their child at home by themselves in order to make a quick trip to the store to pick up a last-minute gift.

Many people look to the law for help in making this decision, but there is no “legal age” when a child can, or should, be left alone because it varies from child to child. The key factor is your child’s ability to keep themselves safe when alone. A child should not be left home alone until they are ready emotionally and have the maturity/capacity to keep themselves safe.

Here are some things to consider when making this important decision:

Age and maturity. How has your child shown responsibility in the past? Is your child able to care for themselves? Does your child obey rules and make good   decisions?

Your child’s feelings. How comfortable is your child being alone? Is your child afraid?

Time. How long will your child be alone? Will it be during the day or evening? During a meal time or bed time?

Other children. How many children will be in the home without an adult? How do the children get along and is the older child able to care for younger ones?

Safety. How safe is your neighborhood? Do you have a safety plan for emergencies? Does your child know their address, phone number and how to call 911 if needed? Can your child contact you at all times if needed? Who else is available to help in an emergency (a neighbor, for example)?


If you have decided that your child is ready to stay home alone, here are some suggestions:

Have a trial period. Leave your child alone for a short time while you are nearby, and see how they manage. Despite it being the busy holiday season, if your child has never been left alone before, it might not be the ideal time to try it for the first time while you run a quick errand or two. You know your child and family best, so you need to determine what will work best.

Role play. Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do. A good example would be acting out a scenario where someone comes to the door or calls when your child is left alone. If you act out the scenario ahead of time about what your child should do in particular situations, they will be better prepared to deal with unplanned events.

Establish rules. Make sure your child knows what is (and what is not) allowed when you are not home. Many parents find that having a chore list to keep kids busy is a good strategy.

Check in. Call your child while you are gone, or have a friend stop by to check on your child.

Talk about your child’s feelings. Encourage your child to share their feelings about staying home alone and address any concerns.

Don’t overdo it. Even a mature, responsible child should not be alone too long or too often. Consider community centers or church activities to help keep your child busy and supervised when you are away from home.

Have emergency phone numbers easily accessible. Show your child where the phone numbers are (phone numbers like the local police and fire departments are good to have on hand).

Haven Evans is the Director of Training at the Pa Family Support Alliance.