Coping With Difficult Family And Aging Parents At Holidays: 4 Tips From Dr. Davis

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Does your family have difficult people in it that you aren’t so sure you want to see this season?  Or are your aging parents a problem for you at this time of the year?  Some elderly people can get grouchy, irritable and unpleasant over the stress of a family gathering.

 And  you may be thinking thanksgivingDinnerabout some  past problematic holidays and hoping this year will be different.  You know that saying, “you can’t change other people, but you can change yourself”?  Well, you can change how you manage these events with a strategy to deal with the difficult people you may encounter. They could be your elderly relatives or anyone you’ll see at holiday time.

Holiday visits bring people with underlying issues together. Otherwise, they may avoid each other.  Unfortunately, family conflicts can heat up at these get togethers.

Dr. Mikol Davis, psychologist here at, offers you these 4  tips to help you change how you view your family get togethers and how you can better manage them.

First, adopt an attitude of gratitude for the positive things.  

Although it is sometimes painful to have to face elderly Uncle Jack getting drunk at dinner once again, focus on the best parts of the day.  You have a place to be and you are sharing it with someone who wants to see you and wants you to be there.  There is generally a flip side to the less enjoyable parts of family get togethers. Find the good parts.  Express appreciation for anything you can.  Offer to lend a hand.  Reach out to someone who seems to be withdrawn from conversation.  Give everyone there a compliment.

Second, respond rather than react.

Think about how you have dealt with the most difficult people in the past:  often we react emotionally without thinking, and the fight is on. The argument starts or heats up because we feel the need to speak up or defend a position.  On the other hand, we can choose to take a moment to consider what to say or do, rather than react.  We can pause and decide whether we can change the subject.  Responding takes more time and thought than reacting, and it often works better.  If an aging parent or other person is criticizing you or taking you on, you can take your time before you say a word and what you do say will probably be less emotional.

Third, there is always a choice to avoid engaging with a difficult person.

They may do what they’ve always done and you can decide to just let it pass. If you are sitting at the table, and anyone else baits you, makes an improper comment or starts to argue with you, you do not have to say a word back.  This can work like a charm. If the problem person does not have anyone to tangle with, there is no game and their difficult behavior tends to just peter out with nowhere to go.  I have seen Mikol exercise the art of not talking in these situations. He has taught me a lot about not responding at all to the worst offenders in social situations with family.  I’m trying to learn this and it’s not easy.  It works though.

Fourth, stay in the moment.  

Keep all of your attention on the present .  Bringing up the past or dwelling on resentments from prior conflicts will only bring you down.  If people are behaving well right now, let that be all you notice. Let all the past go and direct your focus to right now. Here is a silent exercise you can do to make this happen. Count your breaths in and out 10 times. That’s your reset method.  At the end of the 10th breath, turn your attention only to what is in front of you.  Maybe someone said something interesting or funny.  Maybe you can just savor some good food and drink.  Enjoy the details of this point in time and nothing else.  For aging loved ones with memory loss, the moment is ever more important, because they may forget most other things.  This moment can be all they have, so stay in it with them.
In the sometimes very hectic time of holiday get togethers, we also may face the stress of noticing that our aging parents may not be doing as well as the last time we saw them. That little alarmed voice inside says you need to have a talk with them.  If this is what you find, bringing it up at the holiday gathering is not the time. It’s best to set aside a specific planned date after the gathering to address your observations with your aging loved ones.  You can respectfully start that conversation, which you schedule for another day.

If you find that starting that difficult conversation is just too hard and you are avoiding it, get some personal attention from us at We will save you time and untold aggravation by walking you through exactly what to do.  Tap our unique expertise in healthcare, psychology and law to guide you to the best outcomes with your aging loved ones.  Call us to set up a telephone consultation to solve your aging parent problems and save you time.

Meanwhile, we both wish you peaceful holiday gatherings and may your own personal stresses be kept to a minimum.

Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt and Mikol Davis

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One comment on “Coping With Difficult Family And Aging Parents At Holidays: 4 Tips From Dr. Davis
  1. Janet Schuh says:

    How about an article on difficult children who disempower elders?

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