If you’re on Facebook or other socials media apps, you’ve seen digital combat between friends and relatives over politics. Maybe you’ve even strained or lost relationships due to passionate posts and comments. Your beloved Uncle Benny who amused you when he got too loud at family barbeques is now in the enemy camp. Your cousin Christine seems to live on an entirely different planet from you. We all seem to read different sets of news. And this collection of different world views will be sitting around the Thanksgiving table soon. How are you going to manage?
Before you hang out with your relatives, identify something you have in common that is drama-free. Maybe you both like podcasts or mystery novels or Game of Thrones. Do your homework and write down a few topics you can bring up to get an agreeable conversation going in place of a contentious one.
Before you walk into the potential war room, commit that you will not engage no matter what the provocation. Remember that the holiday is intended to strengthen family relationships rather than test them. Stay true to course.
Best coping techniques are in order whenever you are walking into a potential trigger. My two top favorites are a cleansing breath into the stomach with a 6-second exhale and a time out. Avoid holding your breath or breathing from the chest. Also, remember that you can always walk out of the room for a bathroom break or a walk around the block. Excusing yourself from the room is always an option.
If Uncle Benny loves to win, create a challenge for conversational self-restraint with prizes. Set up a penny jar and collect $5 to $10 from each adult player. Everybody is a referee. Each time somebody mentions “Trump,” “President,” “Impeach,” “Climate Change,” or any other trigger word, they lose a penny. At the end of the day, most-pennies gets the biggest prize. Last-to-lose-penny gets a prize. First-to-lose-penny gets a prize. Putting names in a hat for a booby prize is also fun.
Plan some fun activities so everybody isn’t sitting around bored and ready to tangle. Create a Wiffle ball game. Challenge your nephew to Uno. Buy the Left Center Right Dice Game from Amazon for only $6.99. It’s a fun group game and inexpensive enough to send home as a prize. We love a long game of Mexican Train in our family.
GetKidsInternetSafe follows the research about how screen time can interfere with relationships and overall well-being. When the generations come together, digital natives stick their noses in the screen and digital resistants rant about the good old days. Then the digital immigrants get blamed for bad parenting. It can get ugly. Save yourself some headache by establishing doable unplug rules, allowing some well-deserved screen time and putting a basket on the table for screen-free discussions and meals. Also, read a few of our GKIS blog articles to prep yourself for interesting, informed discussions. I particularly recommend teaching the room about online dark patterns (I didn’t know about those until I read my intern’s research), and figure out how to become a meme lord so you’re armed with some funny memes to share a laugh or two. A little bit of prep with planned words of support for the kids may curb criticism.
Finally, fill your heart with gratitude for feisty family opportunities, delicious food, and togetherness. One day Uncle Benny will no longer be with us, and Cousin Christine will create different holiday traditions with her in-laws. Today family togetherness has real meaning. Soak it in. My interns and I at GetKidsInternetSafe thank you for your ongoing support and personal emails and comments sharing your wild family scenarios. We love you and wish you happiness this blustery holiday season.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty