When I was 8 years old, my family’s Christmas was turned on its head when we all came down with the flu. There were 6 of us, and the flu hit us methodically, one after the other, planting us squarely in our beds for days. My poor parents had to care for us (4 children all under the age of 11 at the time) while they were both sick. Somehow, they still managed to put up a tree and wrap presents for Christmas morning. I don’t recall eating any big holiday meals that year – sparing the details, I don’t think anyone was eating much at all – but I do remember waking up late on Christmas day. We dragged ourselves into the living room and draped our sick bodies across the furniture. Mom administered ibuprofen to the whole lot of us. Then, we looked around at each other for a while before someone, probably my then-3-year-old brother, finally crawled across the room to start weakly handing out presents. Looking back across the decades, what I recall most strongly is the absence of fighting that year. (To be honest, my family isn’t known for bickering generally, but under pressure of the holidays, we usually manage to get in some good pot-shots at one another anyway.) On the surface, of course, we were just too sick to pester each other. But to dig a little deeper, we didn’t have the energy to indulge in our regular behavior habits and patterns, the ones that typically resulted in bickering. While I would not recommend giving everyone a virus to make your holidays easier, I certainly believe you can at least disrupt, if not break, one or two of the patterns that lead your family to bicker. In fact, I think you deserve a more peaceful holiday. 

The only power you have is the power to change your own actions and reactions. But, by disrupting a pattern, you can help your family, too. Here are a few things you can do:

Don’t gossip. Just smile and nod, or find another conversation. Take a break. Go see a movie or take a walk or play football with the neighbors. Stay somewhere else. If too many people are already staying at Grandma’s house, find another couch to crash on. Or pitch a tent in the backyard! Be patient, with others and yourself. When you see a pattern that leads to bickering, don’t participate – but be patient with those who do. Habits are hard to break. Notice the little changes and victories and be proud of yourself! Empower others. Forward the link to this article so others can learn to pay attention to and disrupt those negative family holiday behavior patterns, too! Here’s to your efforts to promote a more peace-filled holiday season!

Need a little help with meetings at the office during the holidays?

If tensions run a little high during the holidays for your colleagues, too, you might see some emotional eruptions in meetings. Download our Cheat Sheet to Disrupt Damaging Meeting Behaviors, to help everyone in the office – throughout the holidays and all year long.

Help us Help YOU

What does your family struggle with during the holidays? Leave a comment below to tell us how we can help you disrupt negative habits. 

Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator On Fire, helps leaders with all five adult generations in today’s workplaces (iGen/Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X-ers and Boomers, and Traditionalists) so they can work together on teams that are higher-performing and happier.

Kay’s individual coaching program, “Jumpstart Coaching“, and “Leading Across Generations” workshops help deans and vice presidents build outstanding teams of all ages (schedule a strategy call here). Her keynote address, “Top Myths of Leading Generations,” is offered to help teams become abundantly successful, together.


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  1. Gary Monti

    I cook. Everyone loves it. I stay busy & out of the gossip. Connect based on the “good side” of the people I’m with – no time for the conversation to degenerate. Behaving this way adds to the atmosphere and people look forward to the food I make. Makes for a great holiday celebration. (Wine helps, too. 🙂 )

    • Kay Coughlin

      Cooking is a time-honored strategy to keep out of the line of fire for sure! Personally, I like to cook as much as I can ahead of time so I can go outside for fresh air when our personalities get heated up along with the turkey. 😉

  2. Kay Coughlin

    Amanda, thanks for your kind words. And congratulations on gently but firmly asking your family to stop! I know how hard it is to do that. I have gotten the surprised stares, and endured the brief but uncomfortable silence that follows. But my family still loves me, and we’ve had some meaningful conversations and taken some great walks together instead of picking. They have even come to appreciate my perspective!