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24th November, 20206 min read

6 ways to manage family relationships over the holidays this year

Medical reviewer: Healthily's medical team
Author: Georgina Newman
Last reviewed: 25/11/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

The holidays are usually about spending more time with family. But this year, many of us will be going into the holidays having already spent a lot of time with immediate family as a result of lockdowns.

This can place an extra strain on relationships.

Stress levels may also be higher than usual, perhaps due to added pressures around working from home, caregiving or childcare, and you may feel more anxious as the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold.

But despite these challenges, there are things you can do to help ease stress or tension over the holidays, deal with any issues, and avoid clashes or conflict during this difficult time.

Child and family psychologist Margaret McAllister shares her advice.

1. Be aware of how others are feeling

Other members of your family may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious or bored from being cooped up, or missing socialising. They may also feel uncertain and fearful of what the future may hold, especially now.

“Try to be considerate towards each other and aware of the stresses and strains you’re dealing with as individuals, and how this is impacting your family unit,” says McAllister.

“Having regular ‘catch-ups’ or ‘check-ins’ can help a family work together to better understand what others are going through or feeling.” This can help relieve any tensions that may add to stress.

2. Take a minute to breathe

If you feel stressed or anxious at any point over the holidays, you may find deep breathing exercises make you calmer. Stress can make you breathe faster, more shallow breaths. This, in turn, can make you feel more stressed.

Doing breathing exercises regularly may also help reduce stress and allow you to control your breathing better if you do feel stressed during the holiday season.

3. Encourage cooperation — especially among kids

If you have kids who are missing friends or bored of being at home a lot, friendly conversations and exchanges can quickly turn into arguments. And if your holiday celebrations have to look different this year because of coronavirus restrictions, this could make things worse.

McAllister recommends having plenty of play material to hand — anything new that will help keep kids entertained.

“Games that encourage cooperation rather than rivalry may work best, or games that allow you to build and create things.”

If you can get a child to focus on something practical, this can help them feel safer, more relaxed and more open to talk about anything that might be worrying them, McAllister says.

If kids can communicate with you about how they’re feeling, this can make it easier for you and the family to function effectively over the holidays.

4. Agree to disagree

It’s natural for adult relationships to have become strained in recent months, especially if you’re juggling extra responsibilities, for example around work or childcare.

If you’re working from home, you may be “missing the daily dialogue with colleagues, and dealing with the content of work without any of the benefits that social interaction with your colleagues brings,” says McAllister.

If arguments occur over the holidays that are related to work, home or perhaps the blurring of those boundaries, it can help to “teach yourself to disagree,” McAllister explains.

Settling a discussion by knowing that you don’t always need to agree on things and finding a compromise can remove everyday conflicts, she says.

However, McAllister recommends that adults show a united front when with kids, then discuss any issues quietly as a couple in the evening or at another time. This can help to maintain harmony in the family as a whole.

5. Be forgiving of yourself and others

You may feel more pressure and have more responsibilities to deal with as a result of lockdowns and restrictions, and the holidays may not make these any easier. But try to put your family relationships first.

This may mean being as forgiving as you can.

“Remind yourself to make allowances to other people as you would like them to make allowances to you,” says McAllister. “If you or someone else speaks sharply or without thinking and regrets it, try to forgive and move past it.”

The holidays are also a time when you have to manage relationships with family outside your immediate household. Though you may not have to do that this year, McAllister recommends following this approach with any relatives you may find hard to manage.

6. Focus on the positives

Though it can be important to “give yourself permission to feel sad” over the holidays, especially after a tough year, McAllister advises focusing on the changes you may have to make this year that can be viewed as positive changes.

For example, sometimes travelling to and from a relative’s house, or deciding who to visit or spend the holidays with can cause conflict in itself. This year, you may not need to make those decisions.

McAllister also recommends having regular ‘check-ins’ with family and using this time to focus on the positives.

“Make sure each person has 3 positives to take away with them. This could be 3 positive things that happened that day or week.”

This can help families feel emotionally safe and happier at a time when relationships can become strained.

Finding harmony during the holidays

Getting on well with your family isn’t always easy, nor is it meant to be so.

But by taking the time to think about the people you live with and understanding that you’re all responding to current events in different ways, you can take steps to reduce conflict — and create harmony — in your household over the holidays.

Key points

  • be aware of how others in your family might be feeling. Regular catch-ups can help with this
  • encourage people of all ages, including any kids, to get involved in practical tasks, like games, that can help keep them happy and occupied
  • try to settle any arguments that arise with give and take, and find ways to compromise on things, even if you don’t agree
  • be as forgiving as you can, with people in your household and with relatives you may only see around the holiday season
  • try to focus on the positive events that happen in your days and weeks, and discuss these with your family. Ask them to share theirs. This can help lift spirits
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