Taming Family Tension at the Thanksgivng Table

Dr. Brad Schwall on WFAA Channel 8

Taming Family Tensions at the Thanksgiving Table
by Dr. Brad Schwall

Family holiday gatherings are not immune from family tensions.  Tensions present throughout the year may come to the surface when everyone is gathered together for holiday meals.  Try these tips for tension-free family gatherings.

Keep it simple:

  • Have realistic expectations about your time together as a family.
  • Avoid trying to make everything perfect.
  • Decide what you are willing to do and would like to do as a family.
  • Make plans that aren’t stressful.
  • You may choose to meet in a neutral setting.
  • You may try seeing family on days before or after the main holiday.
  • Avoid attempting to do too much in one day.

Keep it calm:

  • Keep the time moving with thoughtful conversation topics.  Talk with different family members.  Show interest in them asking about work and school.
  • Focus on yourself and your own actions.  Act in the way you believe contributes to a pleasant time.  Ruminating about the behaviors of others or focusing on the annoying behaviors of others heightens your own anger and anxiety.
  • Remember that holiday meals are not the time to work through conflicts.
  • Avoid triggers, such as conversations about the past, religion, politics, and other hot topics.
  • Avoid too much alcohol.  You may believe that a little wine may keep you relaxed, but alcohol reduces inhibitions, which is a problem when you’re angry.
  • It is OK not to accept mistreatment or criticism.  Ignore the person.  Change the subject.  Tell him or her you’d rather not discuss that topic.  Don't engage in arguments.  Don't react.
  • Be creative in seating arrangements seating people who get along together and separating those who do not.

Focus on gratitude:

None of us are perfect.  No family is perfect.  Differences and conflict are a natural part of family life.  See the good in others.  Be accepting of others.  Be thankful for the love that is shared.  Be grateful.