How to avoid and diffuse Thanksgiving family drama
Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the people and things you may typically take for granted — such as family, which you'll likely see plenty of at some point over the long holiday weekend.
So how long will it take before you want to pull someone's hair out?
The day devoted to being grateful also comes with no shortage of stressors for many — New Jersey traffic, for example. Or hours spent in the kitchen preparing dinner. And no family dynamic is perfect, meaning the opportunity for a heated argument could be just one political reference or snide comment away.
The trick is to not let such triggers get in the way of a truly happy Thanksgiving.
"The quicker you can identify that your blood is starting to boil, and take a few deep breaths and walk away, or nod your head and smile — I think that's going to be better for everybody," said Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown.
Nobody evokes an emotional response from you the way your family does, Tobias noted. Interactions can be intense — even on a joyous day — but diffusing an argument before it explodes is typically the smarter route.
"Trying to be assertive, trying to resolve a conflict — Thanksgiving isn't the time to do it," Tobias said.
According to Dr. Christine Hatchard, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor at Monmouth University in Long Branch, there are much higher rates now of family conflict surrounding politics than ever before.
"I would actually recommend avoiding any discussion that might cause significant conflict, like politics or an issue that just can't be resolved through a simple conversation," Hatchard said.
Instead, she said, focus on discussion that everyone enjoys or can bond over, such as funny family memories or a television show that nearly everyone is watching.
Beyond meal time, Hatchard added, families can relieve any potential tension and create new memories by enjoying a board game or playing a sport outside.
Avoiding a Thanksgiving food fight
Know the rules of the house: Is it considered rude to watch football, or is that the norm? Are you expected to help in the kitchen or with cleanup duties? Tobias said many Thanksgiving hosts may be extremely protective over "their domain" — the kitchen — and trying to help could actually do more harm than good.
Let parents handle their own kids: The rule of thumb, according to Tobias, is that unless the situation is life threatening, it's best not to discipline someone else's child.
"Usually when kids are having some kind of conflict and somebody else gets involved, it usually just enlarges the conflict."
Plan a getaway: "If all else fails, you can have a pre-planned escape strategy, which can be some legitimate reason why you might have to leave earlier," Hatchard said.
Be grateful: Research has show that gratitude improves physical and mental health.
"If you have food on the table, and family and friends around you that care about you and root for you, you're doing pretty well."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.