While the holidays are always a joyous occasion, there are parts of it that are less than enjoyable. If you have family members who are difficult to handle, seeing them during the holidays can make an otherwise happy time a difficult challenge.

Fortunately, there are methods you can use to handle those difficult family members with ease. To prepare yourself for the upcoming holiday season, you can add these tips to your toolbox to make dealing with difficult family members a little less stressful.

Tip 1 – Set your personal boundaries and stick to them.

A set of personal boundaries is an extremely wonderful tool. When you set boundaries for yourself, you let others understand your limitations with clear communication and expectations. When you set those personal boundaries and then stick with them, everyone (including your difficult family members) have a full understanding of where you draw the line on what’s OK for you.

While enforcing boundaries can feel uncomfortable at first, the more frequently you do it, the more comfortable you get with them and the more familiar others become with them.

Tip 2 – Let your difficult family members have an opportunity to express their emotions and thoughts.

When a difficult family member begins speaking, it’s tempting to automatically dismiss what they’re saying as valid or worthy of hearing. After all, a difficult family member likely caught that label after years of difficult behaviors – after a long time of being difficult, it seems valid to dismiss them, but this is the opposite way to handle them.

Instead of dismissing them, allow them an opportunity to express their emotions and thoughts. Any time someone is denied a chance to express themselves or how they’re feeling, they’re in a situation where they feel trapped. Instead of feeling heard and understood, they feel denied, which can lead to even more of those challenging behaviors.

Tip 3 – Don’t try to “fix” a difficult family member.

Think about a difficult family member in your life. You may think to yourself, that person would be much better if they’d just change XYZ about themselves! While this may be true, trying to fix a person or their life is never the right answer.

When you try to fix someone, you can create a variety of negative outcomes, including:

  • Making the person feel “less than” for being themselves
  • Making the person feel extremely dependent on you for more help

Either way, you aren’t really helping your difficult family member – instead, you could create a host of new issues.

Tip 4 – Watch out for triggering topics and understand that it’s OK for some topics to be off-limits entirely.

If a difficult family member struggles whenever a certain topic is mentioned (the person’s past mistake, political stances, a failed marriage, or whatever it might be for that individual), it’s best to steer the conversations away from those trigger topics. If the conversation steers toward those topics, develop a strategy to change the subject and find a new topic instead to help soften their reaction.

Tip 5 – Have plenty of events and activities planned so downtime with difficult family members is sparse.

If you’re planning lots of fun activities with your family for the holidays, keep the schedule busy and bustling. If everyone is busy with games, activities, meals, and more, there won’t be a ton of downtime to find yourself trapped with a difficult family member.

Often, when activities slow down and conversation dwindles, it’s easy to find yourself caught in a troubling situation with a difficult family member. Keeping everyone active, engaged, and occupied is a good strategy for avoiding these types of confrontations.

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