Tips for having a harmonious Thanksgiving dinner

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Avoiding hot-button issues and keeping things light can help everyone enjoy the holiday

Thanksgiving is a time for family members to come together, but sometimes holiday reunions can be a recipe for conflict.

The stress of travel, longstanding disagreements between family members, and today’s contentious political climate can give way to arguments that can put a damper on the event.

To keep your family’s Thanksgiving get-together free of quarrels and conflict, experts recommend following a few key rules.

Don’t talk politics

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, gerontologist and professor of human development Karl Pillemer offered a few tips for keeping holiday gatherings from turning into a political debate.

  • Avoid hot-button issues. “Thanksgiving is not the time to try to show your parents, for example, that their political views are all wrong. That’s the idea behind the ‘politics-free holiday,’” said Pillemer.

  • Squash potential conflict early. “When Uncle Bob, a football fan, is gearing up to spout extreme political views, jump it with ‘How about those Broncos/Jets/ Patriots/Bears?’ Lead people away from the hot-button topic.”

  • Find another activity. “If a heated debate starts up, that’s the time to toss the football in the backyard with the kids, help with the dishes, or go for a walk,” Pillemer says.

Spark intergenerational dialogue

Thanksgiving is an event that often brings multiple generations together under one roof, which makes it a perfect opportunity for younger family members to reap the wisdom of older family members.

Younger family members can ask older family members to share their advice for living, says Pillemer. Asking about advice for living can be even more powerful than asking for life stories, he says.

“Don’t just ask: ‘What was it like to be a child in the Great Depression,’ but follow it up with: ‘What did you learn from that experience that would help a young person like me?’”

Avoid bringing up the past

Avoid bringing up a past incident that may upset another family member, such as a divorce or separation, to keep dinner conversations positive.

However, if an elder family member touches on a sensitive topic -- the death of a child or surviving a terrible experience like the Holocaust, for instance -- the best thing to do is to let the elders set their own limits and listen sympathetically, says Pillemer.

“In my hundreds of interviews, I found that older people pick and choose what they will share with a younger person in these ‘wisdom interviews,’ and often steer clear of the most traumatic events in their lives if they can’t handle discussing them.”

Keep it light

Relax your expectations for the event and remember to enjoy your time with family members. If your family isn’t too competitive, you could play a group game like Charades or touch football.

If children will be in the mix, have them participate in small tasks like setting the table or hanging up hats and coats. Expect them to spill or break things and to have loud moments of silly fun.

For guests who will be staying more than one day, consider planning a fun activity to do each day -- but make it optional. Too much togetherness can sometimes create conflict.

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