How To Handle Difficult People During the Holidays

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Holidays can be a stressful time of year, especially if you have a dysfunctional family.  Perhaps your family is “relatively normal”, but you have one or two difficult relatives who will be attending the family gathering at Grandma’s this year.  Just thinking about holiday gatherings can make even the most emotionally grounded person anxious!

How should you handle the situation?

The Trouble Maker

Perhaps you have one of these types in your family.  She may compare her children to your children, or pass along information that such and such a relative said something not so nice about “little Jimmy”. 

People like this love to push people’s buttons and then sit back and watch the reaction.  Therefore, it’s best to not react.  When she tells you how wonderful her son is, congratulate her, even though you know he’s got a criminal record several sheets long.  When she tries to compare children, change the subject.  If the conversation continues to be difficult, remove yourself from her company and see if Grandma needs help in the kitchen.  Most likely, she won’t follow.

The Bully

Bullies can be young or old.  I remember one family gathering where my sister’s son tripped my blind child just for laughs.  When I confronted him, he denied that he’d done anything even though I had seen him, and his foot was still stretched out.  Amazing!  When I mentioned the incident to my sister, her reaction was “So what? Kids will be kids.”

I told my nephew in my sternest voice that I’d better NEVER catch him tripping his blind cousin again or else.  After that event and a few other events, I have come to realize that I need to supervise my children closely to make sure that things are ok when this particular relative is around.  It is a lot of work, which is why I’ve had to institute a new strategy for family gatherings.

Develop a Strategy

I’ve only dealt with two types of difficult personalities in this blog post.  I’m sure that you can come up with many, many different examples using your experiences with your family members.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a game plan to deal with difficult relatives that create nasty scenes during the holidays.  The key is to have a family game plan: be polite, but don’t engage too much during the event, and leave before the situation gets out of hand.  This may mean that you are only able to stay several hours, or it may mean that you take the kids for a walk around the neighborhood when the situation starts to escalate and that you return to the gathering after everyone has had a chance to get control of their emotions.  My children know the family game plan and they know the signal which means that it’s time to go!  When I give the signal, they know to get ready to go.

I hope that some of these tips wil be helpful to you and your family when you must deal with difficult relatives.  I wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving Day celebration!


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