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Playful, Creative Solutions to Beat Family Dysfunction During the Holidays!
Gathering for the holidays means added stress and dealing with multiple personalities. Use these tips to keep everyone happy and entertained.


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Create distractions to avoid family dysfunction this year.


Dust off the Twister box, bring out Scrabble, and shake that Boggle cube! Even for the curmudgeons in the group, it’s hard to be fretful and cranky when given the option to play.”
The holidays have a way of bringing out the dysfunctional patterns in many families. Add a host of in-laws to the mix, and you might have real trouble on your hands! The issues that shift and play throughout the year—those that we talk about and those that we don’t—often seem to bide their time until the holidays. It’s then that they come out to play in full force!

Does is seem that your father-in-law tries to play "Monopoly" with your financial life? Is there a brother who plays "Twister" with the conversations? Do you avoid the old "Battleship" who snips at you? Does Aunt Sue simply "Boggle" your mind with her repetitive stories? Is your communication with your mother-in-law so difficult that you feel like you are playing "Charades?" How can you possibly "Bridge" the gaps? Or are you just ready to throw in the "Cards?" Don’t give up, and don’t give in!

When you’ve got creativity in your court, there’s no need to fear the holiday family get-togethers! You can turn the tables. Let’s take a quick look at how and why this works.

The holidays bring us together with our families in ways that often trigger old sibling rivalries, unresolved parent-child issues, and longstanding complaints or irritations with extended family. As well, when in-laws enter the picture, we often need to summon up an abundance of patience. Unfortunately, our levels of tolerance and inner calm are often at a low during this hectic season. Preparing for the holidays—from cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and baking to shopping and traveling—requires an inordinate amount of time and energy. As the "bigger" holidays arrive (Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day), it is easy to feel a sense of dread creep in at the idea of long afternoons and evenings with assorted family members. It is in these gatherings that tempers fray, hurtful comments are made, and the pressure of the "perfect" feast leads to tears or angry frustration.

This needn’t be the situation when you do a bit of advance preparation to ward off heavy holiday energy. To add a bit of levity and distraction, it’s a wonderful idea to let the games begin!

Fun & Simple Distractions

1. Give the little ones a creative task. Children love to be busy! Offer them the opportunity to create place cards for each guest. Simple 3 x 5 cards can be folded in half and decorated with touches of evergreens, bits of ribbon, crayons, or glitter!

List: 3 x 5 cards, crayons, glue, ribbon, glitter, and a supervised outdoor "treasure hunt" for small fallen evergreen branches. An old sheet or newspaper to protect the table or floor is a great idea.

2. Bring out the cards. Yes! Simple card games, from bridge to Texas Hold ‘Em can change the atmosphere before or after dinner. Those who aren’t needed for kitchen prep or clean-up can play to their hearts’ content. Help those family members channel their holiday energy by adding a bowl of pennies or pebbles for betting.

3. Express yourself with creativity trees. Evergreen branches can be collected and trimmed to form individual holiday "creativity trees." Cut enough 1-foot pieces so that each family member or holiday guest has one tiny "tree." Purchase foam floral blocks, and show the group how to "plant" the tree in the foam and create a unique giving tree. The tiny trees can be adorned with bits of tinsel, tiny ornaments, or bits of nature, such as tiny pinecones or dried cranberries. If you really want to keep your guests busy, offer bowls of unbuttered popcorn and make strands of garland to adorn the trees. To remind your gathering of the special importance of the season, you can also offer small, artful slips of paper on which each person can write his or her dreams, wishes, and blessings for the season and the new year. These can be nestled (or affixed with a dot of glue) in the branches of each tree.

List: Evergreen trimmings of about 1-foot each (one for each guest), tiny tree decorations, tinsel, pretty slips of paper, pens, glue, and foam blocks (one for each guest). If you are making popcorn garlands, you’ll need popcorn, needles, and string.

4. No silent night. Games such as charades and Pictionary offer a lively opportunity for holiday guests to show their skills at drawing, guessing, and pantomime. Whether the guests are working in teams or individually, such games have the gift of creating smiles and an abundance of laughter.

Tip: There are many variations of these games, so agree upon the simple rules in advance. Unless you plan to have guests come up with their own charade topics, prepare the holiday topics/ideas well before the gathering. If you’re creating holiday Pictionary, be ready with an easel, large sheets of paper, and holiday topics. Internet sites such as wordgenerator.net offer charade and Pictionary ideas! Sit back and relax as the guests giggle and laughter roars throughout the evening!

5. Don’t forget the oldies but goodies. Dust off the Twister box, bring out Scrabble, and shake that Boggle cube! Even for the curmudgeons in the group, it’s hard to be fretful and cranky when given the option to play. Ask your guests to share their favorite games (Operation, anyone?) and watch the smiles grow. Though everyone might not be able to twist the way they did when they were 15, options abound. Use your imagination, create variations, and remember that these games are great distractions from the old rhythm of family holiday dynamics.

I’ve offered just a few options to get your creativity and imagination rolling, but there are many more options. From cookie decorating projects (with pre-made cookies for greater ease) to impromptu caroling in the neighborhood, watch the dysfunctional holiday patterns disappear when you shake up the dynamics! Before the going gets tough, take a proactive approach. Create—as best you can—the atmosphere of fun and delight you’d like to enjoy this holiday season!

Dr. Carla Marie Greco has her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. Dr. Greco specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief, and life transition issues. Her greatest goal is to offer services to those in need, offering select appointments on a "sliding scale" for those who have serious financial constraints. Pro bono services, including EMDR, are available for our veterans suffering from issues such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. Dr. Greco is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Redwood Psychological Association. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.



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