Dealing With Difficult People During Family Gatherings?

Dealing With Difficult People During Family Gatherings?

Do You Enjoy Your Family Gatherings or Endure Them?

Kelly dreads big dinners with her extended family; something (more accurately, someone) always manages to spoil the occasion with their negativity.  Great Aunt Sophie is especially critical, saying Kelly lets her three-year old daughter, Jaime, “get away with too much.”

Jaime is a busy little girl and doesn’t always want to stop playing to eat.  As Kelly called everyone to the dinner table, everyone ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at the feast before them. Dinner began well, but Kelly steeled herself, knowing the barbs would fly her way soon.

Jaime, ate a few bites of almost each item, then chirped, “Can I go play now?”

“How about a little more of the turkey?” Kelly coaxed,” or some of the corn.”

“Really, Kelly,” grumbled Aunt Sophie, “You baby that child too much.  Just tell her to clean her plate!  She’s as skinny as a rail!”

Kelly tried to reply positively, but felt defensive, “She eats healthy, just not a lot. I know she’s petite, but the doctor says she is very healthy and right on track for her age.”

Aunt Sophie rolled her eyes and said, “Well, she sure looks scrawny to me.  No dessert for you, young lady.  If you don’t clean your plate, you can’t have any of the pie I brought.”

Tears welled up in Jaime’s eyes as she looked to her mother for support.  Kelly knew there was no point in arguing with Sophie.  “Just go play.  We’ll see about dessert later, Jaime.”

“Well you won’t see my pie on your plate!” Aunt Sophie humphed as Jamie left the room.

Everyone kept their eyes on their plates as Sophie droned on about the lack of parenting ability in young people today.  “Another joyful family gathering,” thought Kelly.

Do Your Family Gatherings End Up Like Kelly’s?

Kelly wants everyone to enjoy the family gatherings but she simply doesn’t know what to do about the one or two toxic people who are usually there.  She feels annoyed with her aunt, who causes her to feel inadequate as a parent. She is also embarrassed in front of her guests and feels sorry for her child.

Are you dealing with difficult people at your family gatherings? Remember that you can use The Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system and its tools to improve any relationship — even adult relationships.  You can hear some great tips from a free excerpt from one of my live workshops on “Dealing with Difficult People.

What Makes Family Gatherings So Difficult?

Family gatherings and extended family relationships bring many personalities together, including some you normally would avoid.  Here are just a few of the challenges many parents experience:

  • Expectations that pressure us to change our parenting,
  • Unsolicited advice,
  • Negativity and complaints,
  • Dealing with difficult people

I’m sure you want to create warm, loving memories, but that desire often crashes into the reality of dealing with difficult people and your picture-perfect plans can often get spoiled.  So what can you do to make family gatherings enjoyable again?

Pressure Situations

You know it’s important to be consistent, whether you are at home or away. When children misbehave, you probably feel embarrassed and pressured by others’ expectations. If you give in, children learn they can manipulate you in social situations and will test you more in public. If you over-react and punish them more than usual, they feel confused and humiliated, which can lead to revengeful behavior. Instead, you want to excuse yourself and talk to your children privately. Then you can get away from the pressure and be consistent.

Unsolicited Advice     

It sometimes seems that everyone, from grandparents to strangers, thinks parents need advice.  Dealing with criticism is hard enough, but unfortunately, their advice may also be inaccurate. Worse, if said in front of children, it sabotages your efforts and interferes with your parenting.

Avoid blindly accepting advice without checking its accuracy. Just because something “works,” it doesn’t mean it is healthy or will bring positive long-term results. Screen advice by asking yourself:

• Is their opinion based on research that proves it’s effective over time?

• Does this reflect their own power, control, or superiority issues?

• Is this advice based on fear or love?

• Is the philosophy positive and healthy?

• What does this teach children? Are there unhealthy hidden messages?

• Are they saying this is the only way or that there are choices?

• Is this a commonly accepted idea, but inaccurate, unhealthy, or unhelpful?

Ignore any advice that interferes with your parenting goals or reduces communication and mutual respect in your family.

Dealing With Difficult People is Do-able!

Family gatherings are worth the effort. You just need to do three things:

  • Be realistic in your own expectations—no one is perfect and some things will probably not go as planned.
  • Trust yourself, be strong in what you believe, be consistent with and confident in your parenting plan.
  • Know that you have a choice about how other people’s behavior and comments affect you. You probably can’t avoid dealing with difficult people, but you can change how they affect you and how you respond to them.

If you want a solid parenting plan that will hold up under the pressures of extended family relationships, take the FREE 30-day challenge. Then you can fill your home with an attitude of gratitude, even when that dreaded family member shows up!

May all your Family Gatherings be enjoyable!


Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website,

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Photo courtesy of Mark Barner

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