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  • Writer's pictureLaryssa Levesque

How to Navigate Family Gatherings Over The Holidays: Your Must-Have Survival Guide

The Holiday season is a time of joy, warmth, and celebration. But for many of us, it can also be a time of stress, anxiety, and family dynamics that are, well... less than ideal. Extended family gatherings during the Holidays can sometimes feel like a whirlwind of conflicting personalities, generational gaps, differing opinions, and a major source of stress. But don’t start worrying quite yet! With the right approach and some practical strategies, you can successfully manage these gatherings and create memorable moments for everyone involved. In this blog post, we will discuss some effective ways to navigate family gatherings over the Holidays.

how to navigate family gatherings over the holidays

How To Navigate Family Gatherings Over The Holidays

The Holidays are stressful enough with the pressures of gift buying and finishing up work projects to be able to take time off. The last thing we need is to be stressed out about spending time with the people closest to us! But, unfortunately, for many people spending time with family over the Holidays is a stressful and dreadful experience.

In this blog post, we will share 8 tips on how to navigate family gatherings over the Holidays so that you and your family can worry less, and enjoy more!

Set Expectations Early

The key to any successful family gathering is open and honest communication. Before the event, consider having a pre-holiday family meeting or exchange emails to set clear expectations, address any potential issues, and ensure everyone is on the same page. This can help avoid last-minute surprises or misunderstandings.

Discuss important topics like:

  • Date and time: Agree on a date and time that works for the majority of the family members, and make sure everyone is aware of it well in advance.

  • Location: Decide where the gathering will take place and communicate this to everyone attending.

  • Activities: Plan activities and games that cater to different age groups and interests. You can even ask for suggestions to involve everyone in the decision-making process.

  • Dietary restrictions: Inquire about any dietary restrictions or allergies, ensuring that everyone has something delicious to enjoy.

  • Gift-giving: If your family exchanges gifts, discuss a budget to make sure everyone feels comfortable and included.

We know that this tip might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many families have conflict over miscommunications or let-downs from unmet expectations. This is often an overlooked step in preparing for family gatherings, so its important to not make any assumptions or decisions for others when planning for the Holidays, and have a clear and open discussion about the expectations well in advance.

Delegate Responsibilities

Managing an extended family gathering can be overwhelming, especially if you're the designated host! Delegating responsibilities can relieve some of the pressure and stress associated with making sure the event is well-planned. Assign tasks like setting up decorations, cooking specific dishes, or organizing games to different family members. Remember that not everything has to be perfect, and it's okay to ask for help. Sharing responsibilities can also strengthen family bonds and create a sense of togetherness.

As well, by making joint efforts as a family to prepare for Holiday gatherings, this reduces the likelihood of anyone feeling resentful that they are "always" doing "everything". No one likes to feel alone in their efforts, or like others don't appreciate them, so pitching in together helps level the Holiday responsibilities to ensure that everyone feels respected, valued, and appreciated.

Create a Welcoming Environment

People's mood can be impacted by the environment they are in; and typical Holiday gatherings might be prone to chaos or disorganization trying to orchestrate all the festivities, which might inadvertently create more stress for family members and guests!

So to help reduce stress and make everyone feel comfortable and welcome, focus on creating a warm and inviting environment. Decorate your space with festive décor, play background music, and provide comfortable seating areas for conversations. Try using soft and warm lighting to help create that cozy atmosphere to put everyone in a festive mood!

You may also consider setting up a designated area for children with toys, colouring books, and games to allow parents some time to relax and socialize, knowing their children are entertained and safe.

Respect Individual Boundaries

Remember that not everyone in your extended family will have the same level of closeness or familiarity with each other. That’s okay! Respect individual boundaries and give people the space they need. Don’t try to force relationships or connections. Not everyone wants to engage in deep conversations or participate in every activity. Some family members may prefer to observe from a distance, and that's perfectly fine. Also try to remember that the Holidays can often bring up feelings of grief and loneliness for many people, which can make respecting boundaries that much more important.

Be Inclusive

Inclusivity is so important for creating a peaceful extended family gathering. Make an effort to include everyone in conversations and activities. Encourage family members to share stories and experiences, which can help build stronger connections among people and generations. You can even organize icebreaker activities that involve everyone, like a family trivia game or a "secret Santa" gift exchange.

However, remember that those who are shy or have social anxiety can find ice breakers, activities or conversations stressful and overwhelming. Find activities that you think everyone can comfortably participate in and respect personal boundaries of those who may not be up for chatting.

Mind Your Differences

It's important to remember that your in-laws or extended family often includes people with different beliefs, values, and opinions. While it's perfectly normal to have differences, it's essential to approach these conversations with respect and understanding. If you anticipate discussions that could turn into disagreements, establish ground rules to ensure everything stays friendly.

Encourage family members to actively listen, avoid personal attacks, and agree to disagree if necessary. The Holidays are a time for unity and love, so focus on the common ground you share and try to appreciate your differences. Learning to appreciate the things that make each person unique can even improve your mental well-being!

And learn from past gatherings- if your family historically has heated disagreements over certain topics, then make a joint decision prior to the gathering to leave those topics of conversation off the table. It is perfectly okay to keep conversations light and focus on enjoying each other's company in a fun and lighthearted way.

Address Conflict Gracefully

Even with the best intentions, conflicts may still arise during extended family gatherings. It's important to address these conflicts gracefully and avoid escalating tensions. If a dispute arises, consider these steps:

  • Listen attentively to both parties

  • Encourage open communication and empathy

  • Offer solutions that aim to compromise and find common ground

  • If needed, suggest taking a break from the situation and revisiting it later when emotions have cooled down

Remember that family gatherings are a time for love and togetherness, so strive to resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens relationships rather than causing further division.

Plan for Downtime

Family gatherings can be hectic, and it's important to plan for downtime and self-care. Create moments of relaxation and rejuvenation throughout the event to prevent holiday burnout. This could include a designated quiet area or encouraging short walks or outdoor activities to allow people to recharge and enjoy some fresh air. A moment of quiet can do wonders for those who need a break from the festivities, especially for those with ADHD or anxiety who may get easily overstimulated by loud noise or busy environments.

The Takeaway

Extended family gatherings over the Holidays can be particularly challenging, but they are also an opportunity to create cherished memories and build stronger family connections. With open communication, inclusive planning, and a mindful approach to differences, you can navigate these gatherings with grace and ensure that everyone enjoys a warm and positive Holiday season. So, embrace the joy of being surrounded by loved ones, and remember that the most important aspect of any gathering is the love and connection you share with your family.

Are you struggling with conflict within your family and feel like you need some additional guidance or support? Inner Growth Counselling is here for you! We offer in-person counselling and therapy in Barrie as well as virtual options to suit your needs. Whether you’re looking for therapy as an individual, a couple, a family, or even just want to work on improving your relationships in general, we have therapists that can help. Contact us to learn more or to book your free 15 minute consultation!


Our team of online and in-person counsellors and psychotherapists in Barrie provide quality and effective mental health counselling services near you in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.



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