How to Set Healthy Boundaries with Friends and Family During the Holidays

One mom's take.

Affectionate smiling mother and daughter facing each other


Affectionate smiling mother and daughter facing each other

Photo by: Martin Novak

Martin Novak

The holidays are the perfect time to practice setting healthy boundaries because there are more obligations, commitments, gatherings and a to-do list that can feel never-ending at times. You might find yourself doing things you don’t want to do, drinking more than you’d like, eating more than you intended, committing to events you really didn’t want to go to or buying gifts for people you barely know.

The key to setting healthy boundaries is to honor what you want and be clear about it without disrespecting those around you. This allows you to build healthy relationships where expectations from both parties are clear and there is less room for misunderstandings.

By having clear boundaries you can focus on what’s important during the holidays: feeling grateful for what you have in life, creating long-lasting memories with family and having a great time with friends. It’s the spirit of togetherness, love and joy that makes this season so magical! So how does one keep boundaries in check during this crazy season?

Here are 10 ways to establish healthy boundaries during the holidays:

  1. If you get invited to a party you don’t want to attend, just say "no." You don’t have to give a detailed explanation. You can simply say: “I really wish I could go but we have so many events this time of the year and we won’t be able to make it.”

  2. Do not offer to bring food if you don’t have the time to make it. Be mindful of how much free time you really have during this month and only commit to bringing food when you can prepare it without feeling stressed out.

  3. Be clear about what you want and need, and ask for it. Misunderstandings happen when we assume people know what we want. By being honest and direct we can be clear about what we want, which makes a better holiday season for everyone around us.

  4. Say "no" without feeling guilty. Saying no can be hard at times, and saying no without feeling guilty seems even harder. But remember that you should only commit to what you have the bandwidth to do and there’s nothing wrong if you don’t have the time or don’t want to do something. So say no without feeling guilty and without giving too many explanations.

  5. Say "yes" only when you mean it. If you find yourself doing tasks you don’t want to be doing, you are probably saying yes without giving much thought to what you’re saying yes to. Before answering a question, take a brief pause and ask yourself if you truly want to say yes.

  6. Avoid passive-aggressive behavior. If something is bothering you, state it in an assertive and respectful way. Passive-aggressive behavior makes for uncomfortable situations that can be easily avoided by stating what you want.

  7. Make time for yourself. There is no doubt that the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for everyone. Make sure you keep your emotional and mental health in check by building in whatever activities or downtime helps you recharge.

  8. Avoid talking about topics that upset you. Most of us have a friend or family member who ends up pushing our buttons. Prepare yourself mentally before you talk to this person, and if they bring up a topic you don’t want to discuss, be clear about it and say: "Actually, I'm not comfortable talking about this right now, how about we change topics?" Or,
    "Let's talk about something else so we don’t ruin everyone’s holiday by discussing heated topics."

  9. If someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, let them know by saying: "I don’t mean to be rude, but I would really prefer if you don’t touch me that way." If this happens to your child, speak up for them.

  10. If someone insists on pushing your boundaries, be firm with an assertive statement. Here are a few examples:

    • “I see it’s not a big deal to you, but it is to me. Thanks for respecting my wishes.”

    • “ I understand you feel strongly about this and I understand your point, but I also feel strongly about my point of view so let’s just stop discussing this as it will lead nowhere.”

    • “I really wish I could eat more but I am so full right now. Thank you.”

Focus on making this holiday season one you will enjoy, because when you are happy, those around you are bound to be happy too.

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