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Editor's Note:  "Borderlines," BAMHS' periodic column, provides ideas and suggestions for healthy living, better family life and successful strategies for coping with life's challenges. Our newsletter is updated frequently! Check back often.
Coping with Relatives during the Holiday Season
Posted: November 29, 2010
Last Updated: November 29, 2010

Dealing with family even at the happiest of occasions can be difficult, but donít get sucked into negative behavior in response to otherís shenanigans. By accepting your relatives and the reality of their behaviors you can plan strategies to keep your cool this upcoming holiday season that can last from November to mid-January next year.

Remember you canít control peopleís behavior; you can only control your response. The key to keeping your cool is to build a mental defense and effective coping skills when faced with relatives who still remember you knee-high-to-a-grasshopper and not as the adult you have grown into over the years.

Some key strategies to help cope with your relatives over the holidays:

1. Be Realistic: Get those Norman Rockwell pictures out of your head. Those situations are not real. By expecting the impossible perfect family or holiday season you set yourself and your family up for failure. Itís better to accept the merits along with the flaws in your family.

2. Relatives are all relative: Bear in mind that relatives are just that - people you are related to. You may love them, but you don't have to like them. You are celebrating as a family for the holidays because you love someone else in attendance. Whatever the reason is that you are with your family, you are not obligated to call up feelings you don't have.

3. Be civil: The last thing you want is for your negative reaction to overshadow the initial offense, which could have occurred last week or last year. Believe it or not, that may be exactly what your relative wanted in the first place to get a rise out of you with their comment. Donít allow that to happen. If you are confronted with a situation that begs for a negative response, pause and take a few deep breaths to collect your thoughts before reacting. This will give you time to think of a more positive way to deal with the situation than allowing anger to guide you to that first negative response that comes to mind.

4. Be prepared: If hot-button issues are sure to surface, figure out a couple of ways that you might rein in your reaction ahead of time. If your last relationship is one of those holiday conversations you know by heart, have a couple of subject-changing activities or questions planned to diffuse the usual course the conversation takes. You might need to talk to a counselor to plan positive responses in such negative situations.

5. Down time: Your holidays will run more smoothly if there are plenty of activities to fill gaps. Have activities for family members to stir them out of the house and give you some alone time. Conversely, if you are visiting relatives try to plan activities to give them a break. An afternoon touring local sites or even a night at a nearby hotel can do wonders to ease the strain of 24-hour family-time.

6. Focus on the kids. Babies and little kids don't fully understand weird family dynamics and they tend to be more hooked into the festivities of the holidays than adults are. Try to plan kid-centered activities like stringing popcorn or decorating the tree to help diffuse adult discord. If the family can focus on passing down positive traditions for the kids than their negative digs at each other, things might be better for the next generation when they gather together.

No family is perfect, and maybe your family has internal issues that keep gatherings from being positive. If family strife keeps you from enjoying the holidays consider speaking with a counselor who can help you learn effective coping strategies to deal with your relatives.


If you would like more information on effective strategies for dealing with relatives call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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