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How to Get Through the Holidays Stress-Free with Your Family

At least we all know we'll enjoy the food...
At least we all know we'll enjoy the food...
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We sat down and chatted with expert, Dr. Nicole Joseph, about what is most important to keep in mind when trying to enjoy the holidays with your family.

What is the biggest pitfall people make during a stressful family holiday get-together?

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We can sometimes have a Norman Rockwell view of the holidays – the beautifully browned bird being laid onto the table surrounded by a cohesive, happy, traditional family, and these expectations can sometimes get us in trouble.

When approaching the holiday, it is important to keep in mind one’s expectations. For example, think to yourself:

Do we have reasonable expectations for how the day will go? We should ask ourselves, our significant others, and our children what they are expecting before the day arrives, and assess if these expectations are realistic and fair.

Planning for imperfection will help ensure that no one is disappointed; there is no such thing as a “perfect” holiday.

It is also important to remember that holidays come along just infrequently enough for us to think of last year and past years through rose-colored glasses. If Uncle John and Aunt Barbara always argue over how to carve the turkey, don't expect a drama-free dinner table.

What are some other helpful hints you think could be valuable to families worried about the holiday season?

It is important to have realistic ideas about how children and adolescents will act and make them clear before the holiday. Do not expect children to spend most of the day helping you prepare the food and decorations for the holiday; children are very sensitive to adult stress and can internalize these feelings, making their holiday stressful.

Instead, allow them to play a role and be very specific about their jobs to reduce possible tension, power struggles, and conflicts. Ask your children to do realistic, relevant tasks: “Jane, your two jobs today are to make sure that you answer the door when the bell rings and take guests' coats as they arrive.”

Likewise, it is important to be mindful of possible expanding generational gaps between our eldest and youngest members. Prepare and remind children and adolescents, especially, about generational differences. Explain to your children in advance that their elders may hold differing views and encourage the children to hold questions for a private time after the dinner or holiday for a more in-depth discussion.

Prepare older family members for changes in advance, too. “Just so you know, Mom, we have allowed little Joey to have a Mohawk and dye it green. We want you to be prepared and would appreciate if you do not say anything about it to him.” Making sure everyone is aware and prepared in advance is a helpful way to avoid conflicts on the big day.

What about kids that get bored easily or have a tendency to act out?

Have a discussion with your children about what is expected with regard to time spent on electronics versus socializing. It is sometimes helpful for some families to put a limit on the amount of time a child has with their electronic devices.

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You may want to say “Michael, you can use your electronic device for two hours today.” However, limit his time playing outside of the most social hours of the day and tell him he has to break it up into two, one-hour sessions. This way your child will have time to regroup and be to themselves, but you won’t be concerned about them acting rude or antisocial with other members of the family.

Try inviting children to do fun activities outside the kitchen, such as making a holiday wish list or place cards for the dinner table. Ask children to bring a bag of developmentally appropriate toys and activities for them to play with if they become bored. These should be items that do not require a lot of supervision from adults (appropriate movies, books, not too messy art supplies, portable games and or electronics with chargers, etc).

Dr. Nicole Joseph is a licensed clinical psychologist who currently works for The Child and Family Counseling Group. Dr. Joseph has experience counseling individuals, couples, parents and families. She received her undergraduate degree from American University and finished her Masters and Doctorate at the American School of Professional Psychology. For more information about Dr. Joseph, check out her website.

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