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  • Michelle Barsky

Tips to Keep Conversation Civil Over Holiday Dinner If You Have a Tense Family Dynamic


Even if this season is called the most wonderful time of the year, it does not always ring true. For those with tense family dynamics, high-stress conversations amongst family this December can take this month and turn it into something far less enjoyable.


Family can be challenging, and unfortunately, the holiday season does not make that less true. If you are feeling wary about conversations around the dinner table this December, you are not alone. Before heading home for the holidays, take some time to read these tips to keep the conversation civil.

Explore setting ground rules with your family

Although making a conversation guide for your family seems a bit dramatic, setting ground rules with your kin on what is or is not allowed is an idea worth exploring. Boundaries do not necessarily have to be “no political conversations.” You can go around it in a less obvious way.


For example, if your household struggles with differences in politics, rather than eliminating the possibility entirely, try agreeing not to influence one another with your opinions. This way, you will not feel as if you are tiptoeing around a subject. If this does not work, try implementing the following tips.

Pick your battles

Despite being formed by our families, having a difference in opinions is very common. Disagreeing on touchy subjects you feel morally tied to, such as climate change or political activism, can hit a nerve for anyone.


However, arguing with your family over every topic of conversation can be exhausting. While you may have a hard time letting things go, picking your battles with family is crucial. I assure you, this is not a matter of abandoning principles, but rather protecting your peace.

Do not engage

In the same vein as choosing your argument battles, it is okay to simply not engage in difficult conversations. If you are known as the family member who is always up for debate, your relatives may try to get a rise out of you by provoking you. You have permission to simply not engage if you do not wish to.


This may sound a little bit like ignoring certain comments from your family, but it’s more than that. By not engaging, you are not giving your family what they want, and you are able to make it through a holiday dinner without argument.

Know when to leave it

When talking about subjects you feel passionate about, you may feel the need to drag out a discussion until the bitter end. One of the most important parts of being an impassioned debater is to know when to drop a conversion. This is especially true when speaking with family.


Moving on from a topic does not make you weak or inept. Changing the subject does not mean that you are not knowledgeable or impassioned. It simply means you are able to take the high road and move on when necessary.

Share memories, not opinions

In the event that none of these strategies work for you, remember, you are always able to talk about memories. The holidays are a great time of year to walk down memory road and nothing brings us closer together quite like a shared experience. Instead of bringing up the latest news headline, tell a favorite family memory instead.


If you experience high stress with your family, I extend my apologies. I hope that you are able to find peace, joy, and happiness at the end of this year and carry that with you into 2023. If you are looking for extra emotional support, get in touch and schedule an appointment with me today.


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