Use these 7 tips to manage emotions, avoid conflict, and enjoy family time during the holidays and other family gatherings.
Enjoy family time during your big events
There is something about family holiday gatherings that brings out the conflict.
In fact, this isn’t actually limited to the holidays. Yes, Thanksgiving and Christmas can bring out some big emotions. But any family gathering is an opportunity for miscommunication, family drama, and conflict.
Maybe you’re heading into a summer vacation with your in-laws. Perhaps you’re handling the big Thanksgiving get together this year. There might be a family reunion coming up, a family wedding or graduation, or a big birthday party planned.
You want to enjoy family time at these types of gatherings. Sure, you’d like a smiling photo for social media. But more than that, you want everyone to get along, have some fun, and make some happy memories together.
Which means you need to avoid the drama and the conflict.
So, let’s take a look together at 7 tips that will help you do that. I’ve been a Christian family counselor for over 10 years, and I know that it is possible to avoid the conflict and enjoy family time together!
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Family drama is no joke
As a family counselor, I have heard many stories about the hurt and pain that can occur at family gatherings. Long-term damage can occur.
Every family has certain hot-button topics or unresolved issues. We live in a broken world, and people do not always communicate kindly or handle their emotions well.
It is possible to gather the family together and enjoy your time without drama and conflict. It takes preparation and humility, but it is definitely possible. And definitely worth the effort.
So if you are feeling stressed or worried about an upcoming family event, just take a deep breath with me. Let’s dive in to 7 practical tips that will help you manage the family dynamics well and enjoy family time while you are all together.
7 tips for managing family conflict
As we start off, you might want to grab my FREE 10-point conflict resolution checklist. We won’t walk through these 10 steps today, but this will be a great resource to print out and have ready during your family gathering.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Tip 1: Focus on listening more than talking.
One of the hardest realities of family events is that you cannot control other people. They might talk and talk and talk… they might be rude or mean to other people… they might cause a scene or start a fight.
You can’t control your family members, but you can influence them.
And one of the easiest ways to influence people is to help them feel heard and valued.
You don’t have to agree with everything that someone is saying. But you also don’t have to argue with them about it. James 1 is clear that we should all be quick to listen and slow to speak. And when we are, it goes a long way in avoiding conflict.
Especially if you know in advance that someone tends to be overly chatty or careless with their words, you can mentally (and emotionally) prepare to help that person avoid creating drama during your holiday or event. Take the initiative to start conversation, ask them questions, and make them feel heard.
And along the way… practice biting your tongue. You’re trying to enjoy family time, not start an argument yourself!
Tip 2: Keep your expectations realistic.
This can be so difficult at a fun family event!
Especially during the holidays, it is easy to get a little overly excited. This might be especially true for moms… we want to create special family memories!
But just like you cannot control everyone else, you also cannot force a family event to go according to your plan.
Yes, you can plan for the event that you want. And you can get excited about what’s going to happen and let people know what you are planning and wanting. But you cannot force things to go according to your plans.
So if you really want to enjoy family time during a big holiday or event, keep your expectations realistic.
What might be some ways that you can stay realistic?
- Consider the personalities of everyone involved, and try to stay ahead on where people might struggle to get along.
- Allow plenty of extra time, so you can be ready for things in advance and not feel rushed or distracted during the family gathering.
- Avoid over-planning a family gathering, so that there is less pressure and no one feels rushed.
- Identify your actual priorities for the family event ahead of time, so that you can focus only on the things that will make that happen, instead of the small details that aren’t ultimately important.
And perhaps one of the best ways to stay realistic about a big family gathering is to think about what has gone wrong in the past, and try to prepare for what you can do this time around to avoid that.
Tip 3: Be prepared to take a deep breath, count to 10, and hold your tongue.
If only you could make everyone else do this too…
But, you might be surprised by what a difference it makes when even one person is able to stay calm and collected during conflict.
This tip will be helpful in two scenarios at your big family gathering:
- You can calm down before starting (or engaging in) an argument.
- If conflict is erupting, you can stay calm enough to help other people calm down or change the conversation.
One of the best ways to avoid anger issues is to prevent them from the earliest stages. Once your emotions really get going, they are much harder to stop. Calming down will take more effort and more time. But on the front end, you can be much more successful.
And if conflict is starting to erupt, that does not mean that things have to continue to escalate. By pausing for a deep breath and holding your tongue, you can change the direction of the argument!
This might be a good time to pull out your free conflict resolution checklist. Or, distract someone with a dessert, a new topic of conversation, or asking them to help you with something. (Everyone likes to feel helpful.)
Tip 4: Share gratitude and compliments out loud (even if no one else does).
One of the best ways to enjoy family time is to notice and share what you are thankful for during that family time.
It is easy to get distracted during a big family gathering. There are a lot of people, multiple conversations, and plenty of things that you could focus on. You might be thinking about what’s going to happen next, fuming about what so-and-so relative said, or worried about what your kids are doing.
So stop thinking about those things.
Instead, think about what you are thankful for in this big, chaotic family of yours.
Even if everyone else around you is complaining, grumbling, bickering, or trying to start some family drama, you can change the atmosphere. You might not be able to stop them from grumbling, but whenever someone offers gratitude and compliments, it tends to shift the whole atmosphere. People feel different.
Notice what you’re thankful for, and tell other people about it. Give people genuine compliments, even if it’s as simple as what they are wearing.
Enjoy family time by keeping gratitude (not grumbling) at the center of what you’re thinking and talking about.
Tip 5: Plan ahead for hot-button topics or unresolved conflict.
It will be really difficult to prevent family drama from kicking up if you are surprised when it starts.
But most of the time, we don’t need to be surprised! You’re a lot more likely to enjoy family time during your holiday gatherings if you’ve planned ahead for a few of the “what if” scenarios.
Especially if there has been drama or conflict in the past, you want to be prepared for how to avoid or respond to that this time around.
You might want to consider things like:
- Can you try to steer the conversation away from certain hot-button topics?
- Think ahead about what you need or want to say about certain topics (perhaps politics or religious).
- Can you purposefully arrange the seating at your table or the people invited to the event, to avoid conflict?
- Should you reach out to people ahead of time to address something difficult now?
While you cannot control what topics other people bring up, you can control your own conversation. This might not be fun prep work, but it might go a long way in helping everyone enjoy family time when you are together.
Tip 6: Take a break if needed to calm down or get some alone time.
Emotions are really hard to deal with once they get going.
So if you notice that you are getting angry, frustrated, or upset, take a short break! Allow yourself some time to calm down.
It is rarely helpful to continue a conversation once someone is getting upset. We are all a lot more likely to say something we later regret, or do something foolish, when we are angry.
Yes, you can apologize afterward and ask for forgiveness… but you will enjoy family time a lot more if that’s not necessary in the first place.
Pay attention to your emotions during the family gathering. If you are starting to feel stressed, frustrated, or annoyed, that is a good time to take a short break. You might lead the room or just leave that conversation. But allowing yourself space to calm down will be very helpful.
Tip 7: Pray before, during, and after the family event.
Is prayer a part of your family gatherings? While you might pray together before a meal, many of us miss opportunities to pray for our family and for big events.
But if you want to avoid conflict, the Holy Spirit can bring a lot more peace, joy, and wisdom to the family gathering than you can!
You can pray before to event to seek God’s wisdom in planning the event, preparing for possible drama, and for God to soften hearts and bring healing to old wounds.
During the event, it will be helpful to pray for wisdom, patience, gentleness, and probably all of the fruits of the Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you maintain peace and love your family well.
And after the event, it is possible that some reconciliation or forgiveness will be helpful. (You can see the Friday Faith Follow-up Episode below for more on this topic.) Be willing to take the lead in this, and help others seek forgiveness as well.
Listen to Episode #54
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Listen to Episode #54.5
Friday Faith Follow-up Episode
In this bonus episode to follow-up on the topic family holiday drama, anger, and conflict, we look at 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 to better understand how to resolve hurt or pain that might be caused at our holiday gathering.
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Disclaimers: I am a licensed therapist but my podcast, blog, and resources are not professional or personal advice. I am an affiliate for many of the resources that I link to, and may earn a small commission if you purchase through my link. Read my full disclaimer here.