Just don’t tell them to stop talking. “That’s a low-odds strategy since it hands all the power to the other person, who may not be willing or able to stop the escalation,” she said. Instead, take control by switching to a new topic or speaker. And while it’s jarring — which is kind of the point — you can even introduce physical activity. “Say ‘OK everyone, 1-2-3, we’re going to stand up and stretch,’” she said. “Whatever it takes to break the rising tide of tension.”
The Problem Solver
With everyone finally together, The Problem Solver can tie a bow around pressing family conundrums. Midway through the turkey is the perfect time to ask their parents about selling the family home!
Not so fast, Dr. Pillemer said. While it can be tempting to broach big issues, particularly if it may be a while before you’re together again, “don’t use Thanksgiving as a time to try and fix someone’s life.”
Instead, consider it a research period for the issue you’re concerned about. “Ask leading questions,” he said. “But make them neutral and show genuine interest: ‘What are your plans over the next five years? What are your friends doing about downsizing?’ Use the time together for compassionate inquiry. Then come back to a real discussion after the holiday, based on what you’ve learned.”
If you can’t resist, Dr. Pillemer said, at least rehearse the conversation beforehand. “Role-play it first with someone who’s not emotionally involved and can give you objective feedback about the content and tone,” he said.
That doesn’t mean you’ll have to eat in silence. Instead, focus on everyone’s favorite topic. “People love talking about kids,” Dr. Moseley said. “If there are children there, ask what new things they can show you. If not, bring up fond memories everyone can appreciate from when you were a child.”
While some people look forward to the comforting fanfare of Thanksgiving as a way to smooth the rough edges of a difficult year, others can’t pull themselves out of a funk while the world feels like it’s on fire. The Eeyore wants to celebrate, but if the festivities are smaller, what’s the point? Might as well just eat a frozen pizza on the couch, right?
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