10 ways to avoid the annual Christmas fight 7 years ago

10 ways to avoid the annual Christmas fight

Finally, we're able to say it's Christmas! Time to eat, drink and be merry – until you spend way too long hanging out with your family, that is. Why is it there's always some sort of contention around this time of year?

We caught up psychotherapist Stella O'Malley and author of the groundbreaking Cotton Wool Kids book for her top 10 tips on how to avoid a stressy Christmas:

1. Give up on the ‘perfect family Christmas’

Strive instead for moments of real joy interspersed with ordinary domestic life. Parents, especially mothers, need to reconsider their expectations, so many people at Christmas time often lose sight of the real goal – which is to have a happy Christmas – not an opportunity to create the perfect picturesque scene for Instagram or Facebook. Life isn’t like that and perfect scenes with snow falling, children laughing and teenagers smiling simultaneously only happens in Hollywood. The hosts of Christmas dinner often get so stressed about the perfect turkey and Christmas pudding that they create real feelings of tension and ruin Christmas, instead follow Jon Kabat-Zinn, the leading expert on Mindfulness and stress-reduction, and aim to be a ‘compassionate mess’. You’ll have more fun and be a nicer person to be around.

2. Take the emphasis off the gifts

Let’s face it, most gifts are disappointing, and if we place a lot of emphasis on getting the perfect gift for everyone, then we are usually on the royal road to feelings of bitterness, resentment and disappointment. Instead of breaking your heart with doomed effort, trawling through the shops trying to get perfect gifts, spend your time instead creating a nice atmosphere at home.

3. Lower your expectations

Christmas comes once a year and you are often expected to suffer people you don’t like ‘just for the day’. At times like this, we often need to lower our expectations and accept the lack of connection. It is unlikely that you are going to suddenly realise you really like this person, and all you needed was a bit of Christmas cheer and understanding. It is much more realistic to accept there are different types of people, and we as humans simply can’t get on with all of them.

4. Allow the pot-shots come over the net and bounce past you 


Don’t rise to the bait. If you choose not to retaliate you will avoid the annual Christmas fight. A person can’t have a successful fight with themselves – they need a collaborator.

5. Spread the joy 

The most important thing about Christmas is that you spread a little joy and in turn, feel happier in yourself. If you see a fight rising among others in the house, then do your bit to re-focus on the joy. Of course, there are some people who prefer to ignore the joy and concentrate on the negative and for these people it's important not to get drawn into their negativity. During times of heightened emotions, like Christmas, you need to be extra vigilant about your own self-control and self-discipline and accept that although some people in the room annoy you, that needn’t be your focus; instead choose to re-focus on the people you enjoy, so that you can have some fun. Some people will grate on your nerves, but sometimes we seek out the opinions of these annoying people, to gather even more evidence about how horrible they are. Take Elsa and Ana's advice and...

6. Visualise your tension as a snowball that needs to be kept small and in check

If the snowball keeps growing and rolling then you will inevitably explode, so if you need to be alone for a moment, then make it your business to go somewhere to re-ground yourself. Don’t ignore the snowball!

7. Give some special time to the surly teenagers in your life

Many parents prefer their teenagers to semi-pretend they are still innocently thrilled by what Christmas has to offer, but in fairness to teenagers, this is simply not fair. Christmas is for kids and forcing teenagers to engage in the more childish parts of family traditions is unfair and even humiliating for them. What about offering to host a Christmas party/sleepover/monster movie marathon for the teenagers? This shows you care that they have fun too. It gives them the opportunity to consider what they actually want to do at Christmas and how they could actually enjoy it, instead of allowing them to wallow in dark thoughts about how crap everything is. Get the teenager involved in some way – they can help create the Christmas atmosphere – the decorations, some baking or cleaning the house after the party. Or else, parents could bring their teenager to a restaurant and  have a (diluted) glass of wine or champagne. This would be sending a message to them that you understand they are growing up, and you understand they are not kids anymore (but parents shouldn’t ruin this by expecting their teens to suddenly grow up and become considerate adults in return!).

8. Bring difficult children to a charity to volunteer for a day or a morning 


Although there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth on the way there, often children who are feeling out of sorts really benefit from helping other people who are having a hard time. Encouraging teenagers to become involved with helping the homeless at Christmas often dilutes self-absorption and broadens their perspective.

9. Discuss your family’s values in the weeks before Christmas 

Parents should have extended chats with their children and discuss how each family is different – use examples of parents in America versus parents in France versus parents in Ireland versus parents in India. Then expand the conversation about the family you wish to raise and why you impose the rules and values that are important to you. Then re-visit this conversation immediately preceding the festive period. Christmas can be a golden moment of learning for your children; we can’t always get what we want, we won’t get on with everyone in life, and we need to learn how to handle difficult people and difficult situations.

10. Keep the visits to stressy rellies short!

It is important for parents to keep certain visits short and sweet, especially if their values don’t correspond with the values of the other family. In that way, you won’t have to nod along politely with a glass of sherry in your hand, silently fuming because you know your six-year-old boy is playing Grand Theft Auto with his cousins while your 12-year-old daughter is upstairs creating false identities on social media! Instead, by keeping visits short, friendly, your children won’t have time to be potentially corrupted. This might mean some extra visits instead of one prolonged visit, but it can be a very effective method of avoiding rising tension between families with kids of varying ages.

Stella O'Malley is an accredited psychotherapist with over ten years experience as a mental health professional. 

Want to hear more practical advice on surviving Christmas from Stella O'Malley? she joins the Today Show on RTE today between 4.10pm – 5.40pm. Listen out. 

High parental anxiety is now an accepted norm but is resulting in generations of teens and young adults being paralysed by anxiety. Stella's groundbreaking book, Cotton Wool Kids, (Mercier Press) is one for the Christmas book wish list. Read more from Stella on HerFamily.ie here