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How to get along with your family on Thanksgiving

©iStockphoto.com/Skynesher Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Skynesher

Family

How to get along with your family on Thanksgiving

Although Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for family to get together and enjoy delicious food, it can also present numerous challenges. No family is perfect and there is often conflict among even the happiest broods. Large holiday gatherings are especially prone to arguments, raised voices and drama, but there are some ways to keep the fighting to a minimum.

We turned to Judith Barnard, a registered social worker and counsellor in Richmond, B.C., who has some helpful tips on how to get along better this Thanksgiving.

1. Identify potential family conflicts ahead of time
It's helpful to find out who will be coming for dinner ahead of time so that you can better prepare yourself for any issues that could arise.

"Based on past experience and present events, identify some potential conflicts between adults, adults and children, and children and other children," says Barnard.

She also suggests role-playing potentially stressful situations with your children and focusing on addressing the conflicts in kind and positive ways. "Ask your children what they like and don't like about relatives who will be attending. Ask about different ways they can bring out the 'positives' in difficult family members," she suggests. "Positive actions, such as giving out homemade gifts or notes indicating how that relative is important to them, set a positive tone for a family gathering."

Barnard recommends indicating to your children that when conflict happens it is an opportunity to focus on resolving those issues as positively as possible. Blaming, angry words and actions only make the situation worse.

2. Know your triggers
Before you head to Thanksgiving dinner think about what might get you riled up and try to keep your anger at bay.

"Sometimes, someone might choose to bring up a 'dumb' thing you have done in the past. Sometimes it's just better to admit that it was dumb and then smile," advises Barnard. "If a relative continues with criticism, redirect."

You can do this by acknowledging the situation and then suggesting an alternate conversation topic. Barring that, take a break, she advises.

"If the situation is causing you too much stress, take a break, go outside for a quick walk or breath of fresh air, and remind yourself that this day will be over soon," says Barnard.

If there has been some difficulty between you and one of your relatives, phone them and make amends before Thanksgiving, suggests Barnard. "Agree to be pleasant with each other and not bring up your disagreements on Thanksgiving Day," she says.

Page 1 of 2 -- Discover four more great tips on getting along with your family this Thanksgiving on page 2.
3. Keep things neutral
One of the best ways to avoid prickly topics around the dinner table is to prepare more neutral topics ahead of time, such as conversing about movies you've seen, books you've read or experiences that you would like to share. This will help offset potential contentious conversations, says Barnard. Try to always be ready with a topic that everyone can weigh in on without offending someone else around the table, she explains.

4. Focus on being thankful
After all, this is the reason you and your family are gathered together. Barnard suggests starting off Thanksgiving dinner with a prayer, a poem, a toast or something that will set a thankful mood.

"Have each person around the table say one thing they are grateful for and try to have the comments focus on gifts of character rather than material gifts," she suggests.

In order to foster a positive and thankful environment around the dinner table, Barnard says it's helpful to let some of the little things go.

"Family arguments often occur over table manners. Let it go," she advises. "Accept that there are going to be some spills etc. Show empathy. Don't use your best tablecloth, china and crystal if you're going to be devastated if it gets chipped or broken. People are more important than things."

5. Set expectations ahead of time
It's important to let your children and teens know ahead of time that if they act out there will be consequences – and explain what those consequences will be. Set ground rules as a family and follow them. This means always saying "please" and "thank you," and absolutely no texting, cellphones, crude behaviour or discussions of contentious subjects at the dinner table, says Barnard.

Lastly, she notes that it is important to understand that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all.

6. Don't expect perfection
Be more concerned with connecting with people than if the food turns out perfectly.
When it comes to ensuring a smooth Thanksgiving dinner, it's important to always focus on the positive, even if there are spills, arguments or a dish that doesn't turn out, she advises.

"Don't apologize for doing your best," says Barnard. The more you focus on what is going well – that the kids are playing nicely, the turkey isn't dry – the smoother the night will go.

It's not always easy for a large family to get together and all get along, but by preparing ahead of time, focusing on the positive and steering clear of hot-button topics you can ensure a relatively calm Thanksgiving dinner.

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How to get along with your family on Thanksgiving

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