Coping with Difficult Family Situations during the Holidays

December 23, 2019

By Jill Whitmyer

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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