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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Day 28: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Compassion begins at home)

October 28, 2013

Ah yes, the family is together again

Depending on your relationships with kin folk, the upcoming holidays may bring on joyful anticipation or a queasy gut. If you’re planning on attending a family get-together be on your best behavior. Why? Because nothing kills the holiday spirit faster than letting the button pushers win. You know who I’m talking about:

  • Your aunt who rehashes everything that messed up her annual trip to Vegas because of course you want to hear how stale the airplane pretzels were.
  • Your brother–in–law who asks how you’re doing, then four seconds into your answer interrupts with “Oh, did I tell you….?”
  • Your niece who comments on the health hazards of each lovingly made side dish on the buffet table.

Drives you bonkers every time, right? Instead of allowing these encounters to vaporize your Happy Ho-Ho, here are three good reasons to stay calm:

1. When you exchange irritation for compassion you take better care of yourself emotionally and physically.

2. When you refuse to let your buttons get pushed you do your part to make the get-together happier for yourself and everyone else.

3. All parents are teachers. If you want to teach your kids to be good people who know how to use their “company manners” you’ve gotta show them what it looks like.

Tips for Becoming More Compassionate (during the holidays and year-round)

When that relative does or says something which grates your nerves, ASK yourself:

  1. What’s going on with me right now? Irritation? Embarrassment? Frustration? Boredom? Resentment? Jealousy? Job #1= Identifying what you’re feeling so you can start understanding your reactions and take them off auto-pilot.
  2. Why does this bother me so much? We are hardest on people whose behavior mimics parts of ourselves that we dislike. Which part? Think about it. And while you’re pondering, you might find yourself softening toward the equally flawed mortal in front of you.
  3. What’s my usual way of responding? How does your knee-jerk response increase your stress levels and the stress of the people closest to you? Thinking clearly about the downside of our usual reactions can encourage us to explore more positive options.
  4. What does that person need? We’re usually so busy resenting button pushers we rarely think about helping them. But if you consider why Auntie must rehash every complaint and disappointment, negative family dynamics can shift. Maybe she just needs someone to acknowledge her troubles. Sounds like what most of us need at times. Maybe the problem isn’t what Auntie really needs, but her inability to ask for it directly. If you can figure out what she (or anyone) really wants and you can provide some or all of it, you might discover a) Auntie isn’t as “irritating” as she used to be,  b) you feel more compassion and love towards her, and c) you’ve freed yourself from a cycle that only made things worse. Win-win-win.

Revving up to family get-togethers, talk honestly with your teens about the challenges we all have in expressing our needs. Share with them what you’ve learned about being part of a family. Let them know while families are forever, family dynamics can change. With compassion and a willingness to be honest about what you feel and what you need, you can teach your children that healthy people continue growing in positive directions.

Happy Holidays, from our family to yours



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