Challenging Conversations

Navigating Thanksgiving: How Can Families Stay Connected Amid Differences?

Delaney Ruston, MD
November 21, 2023
From our friend Beth Howard's blog, theworldneedsmorepie.com

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us, starting with Thanksgiving in two days. If you are like me, you may be experiencing a mix of warmth AND tension. Intricate dynamics of family gatherings can amplify the usual holiday stress. 

Contrary to the idyllic scenes in Hallmark cards, where families are toasting at dinner with beaming smiles, the reality can be starkly different. It might be more like people wanting to throw their wine at each other at the table. These underlying tensions are precisely why some individuals find themselves drinking a lot at family gatherings — an attempt to alleviate stress. However, as shown in Screenagers Under The Influence, this strategy can often backfire, leading to more complications than relief.

Today, I’m discussing two important topics. First, how can we leverage these complex family gatherings to enhance empathy and communication skills in our children? And second, how can we increase joy and positivity during family get-togethers by thinking up specific activities in advance? 

Boosting Empathy and Communication Skills

Separate the person from the expectation

While working on a film about re-establishing a connection with my father, who lived with schizophrenia throughout my life, I observed something transformative. Watching the film crew interact with him, I heard their genuine appreciation for his many wonderful qualities, like his sense of humor and intellect. This experience was eye-opening. It made me realize that my preconceived notions of what I wanted him to be as a father clouded my ability to appreciate him more fully.

It wouldn't surprise me if you have mixed feelings towards family members like your mom, dad, sister, or brother, stemming from unmet expectations. We often carry around thoughts of how they should behave — for instance, believing "a sister should be someone who does this, but mine never does," or "My dad would be a good father if he did certain things, but he never does." These 'should' feelings dampen our ability to appreciate the goodness that does exist in these individuals. 

Before the holidays arrive, can you take some time for introspection to identify your expectations (these expectations very much overlap with our hopes and wishes)? Then, try to consider each family member simply as an individual rather than focusing on the roles they play in your life. This shift in perspective might help you see them in a new light. 

Now, engage in a conversation with your child about this family member, but from this refreshed viewpoint. Share with your child the aspects you genuinely appreciate about this person. Doing so will provide a new perspective and a wonderful way to foster empathy in your child as they listen to you speak positively and appreciatively about this person with whom you have a complicated relationship.

Join
443
others who have made the pledge!
Thank you for making the pledge!
Please try again
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More

Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

Learn More
Screenagers Under The Influence Banner

Our New Movie - Learn more about the third movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

Learn More

The Screenagers YouTube Channel - Subscribe for new videos and content from our team weekly!

Learn More

Synergize

Another idea is inspired by Steven Covey’s "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," which has to do with “Synergize.” Isn’t that a cool word?!  Synergize refers to uniting different people's strengths through teamwork to achieve goals beyond what individuals could accomplish on their own.

So why not explain this term to your child before a holiday gathering and talk about a challenging family member and how together you can synergize — i.e., find ways to make the time with the family member (or a particular non-family guest) go better?!

For instance, you might say to your teen, “You've seen how Grandpa sometimes tries to be funny by teasing others, but it often dampens the mood at our gatherings. What if we work together — synergize — and if we notice he’s starting to do this, we gently redirect? We could tell him we have something interesting to show him and then lead him to the den to look at some old college photos of him. Do you have other ideas of how we can synergize?“

Enhancing Joy

To enhance the joy of the occasion, consider engaging in connection-promoting activities. Reflecting on a blog post I revisited from 2018, here are some togetherness activities for your family this Thanksgiving:

  • Photo Memories: Dive into a collection of this year's photos. Spread out printed photos like a puzzle and have everyone pick their favorites. It's a delightful way to stroll down memory lane.
  • Dance Across Generations: Break the mold by initiating a dance session. From square dancing to the Macarena, ballroom steps, or even disco, encourage everyone to share dances from their era. It’s time to make dance a part of our family traditions beyond just weddings.
  • Cloud Gazing: Inspired by Gavin Pretor-Pinney's Cloud Appreciation Society from a TED Radio podcast, consider spending time marveling at the sky. It's a peaceful activity, though a bit tricky in cloud-covered places like Seattle!
  • Neighborhood Walk of Thanks: Go for a walk and express gratitude to your neighbors. Whether a face-to-face thank you or a thoughtful note left at their door, it's a heartwarming way to acknowledge and appreciate your community.

These activities embody the spirit of Thanksgiving, cherishing moments, expressing gratitude, and building stronger bonds within families and communities.

Questions to get the conversations flowing

  1. When you think of this upcoming holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving, what gives you a warm feeling inside? What are things you really enjoy about the day?
  2. When thinking about the day, can you think of anything that brings up stress?
  3. How about any tensions around family members?
  4. What are some traits in family members that push our buttons?
  5. What do you think about the concept of Synergize?
  6. Do you have any ideas for activities or discussions we can plan ahead to bring more fun and connectedness to the day?

Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More

Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

Learn More
Screenagers Under The Influence Banner

Our New Movie - Learn more about the third movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

Learn More

The Screenagers YouTube Channel - Subscribe for new videos and content from our team weekly!

Learn More

This week on YouTube

Thank you so much for the support shown last week as we introduced Screenagers Bites onto our YouTube Channel! You can expect more of these published every Tuesday and Friday, so be sure to subscribe to the channel to get them in your feed.

Here are two more that we published today.

Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More

Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

Learn More
Screenagers Under The Influence Banner

Our New Movie - Learn more about the third movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

Learn More

The Screenagers YouTube Channel - Subscribe for new videos and content from our team weekly!

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More

Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

Learn More
Screenagers Under The Influence Banner

Our New Movie - Learn more about the latest movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

Learn More

The Screenagers YouTube Channel - Subscribe for new videos and content from our team weekly!

Learn More
Challenging Conversations

Navigating Thanksgiving: How Can Families Stay Connected Amid Differences?

Delaney Ruston, MD
November 21, 2023
From our friend Beth Howard's blog, theworldneedsmorepie.com

Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us, starting with Thanksgiving in two days. If you are like me, you may be experiencing a mix of warmth AND tension. Intricate dynamics of family gatherings can amplify the usual holiday stress. 

Contrary to the idyllic scenes in Hallmark cards, where families are toasting at dinner with beaming smiles, the reality can be starkly different. It might be more like people wanting to throw their wine at each other at the table. These underlying tensions are precisely why some individuals find themselves drinking a lot at family gatherings — an attempt to alleviate stress. However, as shown in Screenagers Under The Influence, this strategy can often backfire, leading to more complications than relief.

Today, I’m discussing two important topics. First, how can we leverage these complex family gatherings to enhance empathy and communication skills in our children? And second, how can we increase joy and positivity during family get-togethers by thinking up specific activities in advance? 

Boosting Empathy and Communication Skills

Separate the person from the expectation

While working on a film about re-establishing a connection with my father, who lived with schizophrenia throughout my life, I observed something transformative. Watching the film crew interact with him, I heard their genuine appreciation for his many wonderful qualities, like his sense of humor and intellect. This experience was eye-opening. It made me realize that my preconceived notions of what I wanted him to be as a father clouded my ability to appreciate him more fully.

It wouldn't surprise me if you have mixed feelings towards family members like your mom, dad, sister, or brother, stemming from unmet expectations. We often carry around thoughts of how they should behave — for instance, believing "a sister should be someone who does this, but mine never does," or "My dad would be a good father if he did certain things, but he never does." These 'should' feelings dampen our ability to appreciate the goodness that does exist in these individuals. 

Before the holidays arrive, can you take some time for introspection to identify your expectations (these expectations very much overlap with our hopes and wishes)? Then, try to consider each family member simply as an individual rather than focusing on the roles they play in your life. This shift in perspective might help you see them in a new light. 

Now, engage in a conversation with your child about this family member, but from this refreshed viewpoint. Share with your child the aspects you genuinely appreciate about this person. Doing so will provide a new perspective and a wonderful way to foster empathy in your child as they listen to you speak positively and appreciatively about this person with whom you have a complicated relationship.

More Like This

Helping Your Kids Manage Media Consumption During War Time
October 17, 2023
Challenging Conversations

Helping Your Kids Manage Media Consumption During War Time

Today, I am concentrating on 3 steps to help protect our kids from the downsides of social media and overall screen time, especially given the prevalence of violence, misinformation, and distressing content right now.

READ MORE >
Preparing For Sudden Tech Failures
September 20, 2022
Challenging Conversations

Preparing For Sudden Tech Failures

If there was an emergency, what are some things you could do now to shore up your tech to help lessen the impact on your family and work? Read in this Tech Talk Tuesday about four key things I did and made sure my family knew.

READ MORE >
It’s Everywhere Online, But Nobody is Talking About It
August 16, 2022
Challenging Conversations

It’s Everywhere Online, But Nobody is Talking About It

Raising topics around sexuality is, to varying degrees, uncomfortable. Yet, I believe our digital age makes having uncomfortable conversations paramount. It’s a gift to kids of all ages when we calmly and non-judgmentally raise topics related to sexuality and let them know we care and are here for them. Today, I offer four topics to raise with your child or older teen. Some will be appropriate for both age groups, and some will just make sense for those who are a bit older.

READ MORE >

parenting in the screen age

for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

ORDER HERE
Parenting in the Screen Age book cover