These Tips Can Help Keep Your Thanksgiving Dinner Policy Free
USA Today national political correspondent Phillip M. Bailey explains how families can avoid getting into heated political arguments at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Anthony Jackson, USA TODAY
Lisa Ballenstine’s four adult children have not spent the holidays with her since she voted for Donald Trump in 2020.
“All the political issues came up and our family was so fractured,” Ballenstine, a 56-year-old resident of Naples, Fla., told USA TODAY. “I love my children. These were the worst years of my life.
Those tensions are starting to ease this year, as three of her four children agreed to join the family for Thanksgiving at her mother-in-law’s house in Ballenstine, Tennessee.
As his family finally reunites Thursday, Ballenstine, who owns an aquascape installation company, said political views won’t be allowed at the table. But that may be easier said than done.
And Ballenstine’s family is not alone. This Thanksgiving, like the Americans travel far and wide To break bread with loved ones, many will navigate – or try to avoid – heated discussions about politics and debates that divide the country, starting next month. 2024 presidential election to the present war in Israel.
Psychologists and diversity, equity and inclusion experts spoke to USA TODAY about how families can navigate a path through or around landmine-filled political discussions this year and enjoy a happy holiday.
Avoid political speech
The holidays are known for being a time when people come together. Sometimes that includes individuals who wouldn’t normally choose to be with each other, said Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and author of “Rules of Estrangement.”
And as families begin to discuss controversial issues, underlying dynamics may surface. It could be long-standing family conflicts, sibling rivalries or other lingering feelings, all of which are likely to be sparked around the holiday dinner table, Coleman said.
If the goal of this holiday season is to avoid conflict, he suggests that before knocking on a loved one’s door, people proactively assess the situation they find themselves in.
“It’s helpful to take your own temperature as to your willingness to be in that environment,” Coleman said. “How likely is it that this won’t go well and you’ll end up regretting going?”
Deciding whether or not to engage at the table
For those who attend family events, the methods used to approach political conversations on Thanksgiving will likely depend on individual relationship dynamics.
Dr Eileen Kennedy-Moore, clinical psychologist and host of the advice podcast “Kids Ask Dr. Friendtastic“, recommended that anyone wondering whether to tiptoe into political territory should first think about the results they are trying to achieve.
If the conversation is likely to escalate into an “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument, or “the chances of listening and being heard are zero,” Kennedy-Moore said, it’s best to ‘avoid the subject and try. talk about other topics instead.
“We want to focus on what brings us together,” she explained. “It could be our common interest or shared experiences with people we care about.”
It is also important to know who will be present, Risha Grant, a DEI consultantsaid, emphasizing that not everyone in the room may want to take part in a politically charged discussion.
“Set ground rules,” she urged. “If you’re going to have a conversation, set some guidelines, because if you don’t, it’s going to get out of hand. »
Approach with empathy
When political debate is unavoidable, Kennedy-Moore said the key to keeping the conversation civil is to approach the other person’s point of view with curiosity and understanding, rather than disdain.
“We need to move forward gently and with a focus on our common humanity, rather than criticizing someone because you are wrong and bad,” she warned.
The tone and location of the conversation can make the difference between a positive interaction and one that ends in a food fight.
“Try to stay friendly. Avoid insults and sarcasm and watch your body language,” Kennedy-Moore suggested. “Keep it open and relaxed, lean back, keep your arms and elbows away from your body – and above all don’t point.”
She also recommended limiting the discussion to a small group so that shouting is less likely and “there is no audience to try to impress” or sides to take.
If tensions start to rise, it’s time to end the discussion quickly, Grant warned. Typically, she says, it’s the point of no return when people start to stop listening and dig their heels in the sand.
“It’s very likely that people who say absolutely rude and inappropriate things during the holidays have no limits,” she said. “You have to set those boundaries and, I don’t say that lightly because family is very important, but even to the point of leaving.”
Exit unwanted conversations
Sometimes it may also be appropriate to end political debates from the start.
“I think it’s okay to say that this conversation is very painful for me. Let’s talk about something else,” Kennedy-Moore said. “If difficult topics come up and you don’t want to go there, you can just say a no-commitment “hmm,” or … change the subject.”
If loved ones don’t respect these boundaries and still persist in the conversation, Kennedy-Moore recommends finding an exit strategy from the table, such as getting up for a glass of water or going to the bathroom.
And if all else fails, Coleman said leaving the Thanksgiving event altogether can sometimes be the best last resort.
“You don’t have to stay at a family gathering if people are behaving in an abusive, destructive or hurtful way,” he said. “You always have the option to just stand up and say, ‘Okay, well, maybe we can talk about this later.’ But I told you if this continued, I was going to get up and leave. So, I’m actually going to get up and leave.