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Uh-oh. It's the holidays. Setting boundaries with your family is a must!

A girl celebrates inside a bubble while other hands try to cross her boundaries.

It's the holidays, so everything is merry, bright, harmonious, and happy this season, right? If you just laughed, you're not alone. We know that for many people, the holiday season can be filled with dreaded events with difficult family members and uncomfortable conversations. Maybe a trip to the dentist for a root canal sounds better than that family gathering looming up ahead.

Now, here's the thing we can't afford to forget: the holidays can be just as hard on our kids' well-being as it is on ours. In fact, it might even be harder. Adult family members will (more or less) view you as an equal, but the same isn't always true for your kids. Remember how some family members seemed entitled to know about every detail of your life when you were a kid? Well, that hasn't changed much.

But, there's good news. Your kid’s don’t have to have the same experience you did.

You can start setting boundaries with family to protect your kids' mental health and emotional well-being.

Yep, that's right. Now, what does that look like in practice?


1) Give your kids permission to set boundaries with family members before you enter a challenging situation.

If you've ever tried to draw a line with difficult family members, you know how hard it is. Maybe it even felt like disrespect. Now, put yourself in your kid's shoes and imagine how that feeling would be amplified. After all, what gives them the authority to simply leave an uncomfortable conversation with one of their family members?

Well, you do and that comes down to giving your kids permission to set boundaries beforehand. Bring your kids together for a conversation before your next event with your extended family members.

  • Explicitly state that they have the right to set boundaries with family members about anything. If it feels damaging to their mental health or emotional well-being to give hugs or discuss things like their relationship status, gender identity, religious stance, eating habits, or more, then those things are okay to make off-limits. Just because someone is a family member doesn't mean they have the right to push your kid into physical contact or a conversation that leaves them feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable.

  • Practice the words they'll say when setting boundaries with family members. Now that your kids know they have permission to disengage from unhealthy situations, give them the words to respectfully shut the conversation down. It's as simple as saying, "I'm not going to discuss that because it makes me feel uncomfortable." Practicing boundaries ahead of time will help your kid enforce them in the heat of the moment.

Once your kids are equipped with these tools, it's time to go a step further.


2) Prepare coping strategies ahead of time in case your kid has to set boundaries with family.

Unfortunately, we'd be setting you up for a rude awakening if we said that setting boundaries would feel easy or sit well with family members every time. Here are some realistic expectations: it'll feel deeply uncomfortable and may not get a positive reaction. That means your kid needs coping strategies ahead of time.

After you've given permission to set them, give your kids tools to maintain boundaries and handle any negative emotions they feel after. There's really no right way to do this. It could look like:

  • Leaving the dinner table for a few minutes

  • Finding a quiet space to be alone outside

  • Coming to ask you for help

  • Taking controlled deep breaths to slow their heart rate

  • Saying positive affirmations

  • and more

You know your kid best, so get creative with them about the self-care they'll need to help them through the scary or difficult feelings that come with setting boundaries!

Lastly, there's one crucial thing you can do for your kid when dealing with difficult family members.


3) Be your kid's greatest advocate and defense for setting boundaries with family.

It's probably going to happen at some point. Your kid will attempt to draw a line with a difficult family member, and that person won't respect it. They'll keep pushing the issue, trying to pressure your kid into caving to their expectations.

Here's how you can protect them:

  • Let your kids know ahead of time that they can always come to you for help with difficult family members. It doesn't matter who you're talking to or what conversation you're in. They can interrupt you and recruit your help with maintaining their healthy boundaries.

  • Keep an eye on your kids when you're at the family event. Take note of when notoriously difficult family members start talking to your kid. Watch their body language for signs of discomfort or desperation. As soon as you notice these things, reinforce the boundaries your kid has been trying to create. It's much easier to protect your kid at that moment than to try repairing emotional or psychological damage after the fact.

When you actively support your kids in their decision to set boundaries, you become their greatest defense against things that could harm their mental health or emotional well-being.


Ultimately, it comes down to you when helping your kids set boundaries with family members.

The key is preparation ahead of time. While it might sound easy in theory, it takes a lot of courage to set boundaries and stick to them in the heat of the moment. By giving your kid permission to set them, creating healthy coping skills for after the fact, and actively being your kid's line of defense, you give them the tools to deal with difficult family members and protect themselves from conversations that would harm them.