Ask the Expert: Getting along over the holidays with Jennifer Kolari

The holidays are meant to be a time of love and relaxation, but sometimes all it takes is one off-hand remark to ruin everything. Many of our users had questions about how to keep the peace over the holidays, so we invited LifeSpeak expert and child and family therapist Jennifer Kolari to answer them in this week’s Ask the Expert session. Jennifer is one of the nation’s leading parenting experts and the founder of Connected Parenting. Author of Connected Parenting: How To Raise A Great kid (Penguin Group USA and Penguin Canada, 2009) and You’re Ruining My Life! (But Not Really) Surviving the Teenage Years with Connected Parenting (Penguin Canada, 2011), Kolari is the Parenting expert on CBC’s Steven and Chris show, and has appeared frequently on Canada AM and Breakfast Television. Her advice can be found in many Canadian and U.S. magazines, such as Today’s Parent, Redbook, Parent Magazine and Canadian Family. She is also on the health advisory board for Chatelaine Magazine.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Jennifer Kolari. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous.

Diffusing tension

QUESTION — “How to handle in-laws when they broach politically divisive subjects that I do not agree with and also creates tension at the dinner table?

Jennifer Kolari — “This is a really tough issue, and a lot of people are worried about this one. I suggest frontloading everyone before the event and agree not to talk about politics or other divisive issues. Set the tone that the holidays are for sharing and laughing and enjoying each other, not arguing. If they start, gently say, ‘I really get that you have strong views on this, and I can see how much you want to talk about…. Everyone is entitled to their views, but I am going to opt out of this discussion.’ Then try to change the subject or use distraction. Stay neutral and try not to engage. Some family members are looking for the adrenaline rush of an intense argument, so staying calm will make you a very boring opponent. Also, appeal to their good side and find things that you have in common that can also help.

Making the holidays special

QUESTION — “My 2 sons and I are going to be alone. We have no family here and are not visiting anyone. I don’t want them to feel lonely. What are some things to make them feel extra special (without having to buy lots of gifts that I can’t afford)?”

Jennifer Kolari — “The holidays are about love and being together. Try starting some new traditions like making crafts, a holiday scavenger hunt, or winter walk with a lantern. You can watch home videos and tell stories about when they were little. Making lists of all of the wonderful things about them can also really help. Connection is medicine, and when you have close moments like this, oxytocin (which is known as the ‘love drug’) flows along with serotonin, which is responsible for happiness. Gifts and all things kids get releases dopamine, which only leads to pleasure. Make this holiday about happiness, which can only come from laughing, snuggling, and being together. It will be the one they remember, I promise.

Staying true to yourself

QUESTION — “What is the best way to try not to be ‘phoney’ when dealing with family?

Jennifer Kolari — “Ok this is an interesting one. I’m going to give a bit of a complicated answer. We have two brains in our head. The limbic brain, which is responsible for fear, anger, rage and survival and the prefrontal cortex responsible for higher-order thinking, planning, inhibiting, organizing. We want to always be using that part of our brain when dealing with people. I’ll give tips in a second. Humans only have two emotions: love and fear. Anger, rage, jealousy are all forms of fear. Think of your best self as a compass facing north. When you are doing your best to line up with the emotions closer to love, YOU are going to feel better. People are always the stars of their own movie. They will never see things your way. So you are not being phony; you are acting in ways closer to your best self! Everyone wins, especially you. This takes courage, but with great rewards. Try breathing calmly and literally imagine you are a compass facing north. You will always be proud of yourself for choosing kindness. It is power.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Jennifer Kolari, you can always sign in to your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log on January 21st at 12PM EST to chat with Tim Sitt, who will be answering your questions about setting goals for your personal fitness. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real-time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a walk-through.