MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During the holidays, psychologists say the potential for conflict is high and people tend to get stressed out. So, how do we avoid the holiday drama?

Dr. Alan Steed is a family therapist at Allina Clinics in Eagan. He spends time with patients who struggle with family relationships.

“It’s that whole idea that family is family, and we can do things and say things that we normally wouldn’t because we are trying to maintain a little bit better image in public. Families can get kind of dicey at times, with what they say to one another,” Steed said.

For holiday gatherings, he says the best thing to do is map out a strategy for keeping the peace.

“Just have a script in mind, be able to keep it superficial if it still is a difficult relationship, not spending too much time around those people. Avoid them if you can,” Dr. Steed said.

So, how do you do that?

“Kind of move around a little bit, be aware of where that person is, try to avoid extended contact with them,” he said.

Staying busy helps and you can offer to help out with the food preparation or the kids — just don’t expect people to change.

“They are going to be pretty much as they are. You know what to expect. Don’t go in with the expectation they are going to be very different from how they have been, and how they probably will be,” he said.

Steed says if you have young kids or teenagers, be sure to talk to them ahead time about your expectations for their behavior. Let them know you want them to interact with their relatives, and they can’t be on their smartphones and tablets the whole time.

Establish some limits on when and how long they can use their mobile devices. With little kids, be sure to bring something for them to do.

If you’re really dreading spending time together, is it OK to simply not go to these gatherings?

According to Steed, yes it is.

He says he’s increasingly seeing people choose to create their own gatherings with just their immediate family members and close friends — starting a new tradition.

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