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Family therapists advise on keeping controversial topics from ruining holiday gathering

Scene from family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner
Scene from family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner(KWCH)
Published: Nov. 24, 2021 at 7:26 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - While Thanksgiving is all about family food and giving thanks many know controversial topics can change everything. Politics has always been there and this year, many say they’re worried about vaccination talk.

When it comes to gatherings and keeping disagreements on controversial topics from boiling over, family therapists say it’s important to remember why we celebrate.

“Thanksgiving for me, is a time for me to be around family and just kind of reflect on what the last few months have been like and have an opportunity to engage in some gratefulness,” licensed mental health Professional Kate Kinman said.

Controversial topics like politics, and now, vaccinations, may come up. How you handle these conversations could dictate how the day with your family goes.

“Setting boundaries is always a great thing, or just, you know, trying to gently redirect conversation back to something a little less heated,” said family therapist Lisa Butler.

Kinman and Butler said worrying about keeping the peace with family around the holiday is nothing new for their clients.

“Quite often in our sessions, it’s been something that we’re at least touching base on,” Butler said. “I’m at least bringing it up to make sure that there isn’t any tension or nervousness that I can help them through. and for a lot of them, we’re kind of coming up with some clear structure of how they want to handle it.”

If certain topics of conversation come up that could turn controversial, counselors and therapists offer tips to redirect the focus.

“Just turn it into something more light, or more playful,” Butler said. “Redirect it to Grandma or the kids or something that we can all agree on.”

It’s important not to forget if kids are around, even if they’re not at the table where the heated conversation is happening.

“Kids are great listeners, even when we think they’re no paying attention,” Kinman said. “And so, kind of keeping a mind that even when you think you’re having a quiet adult conversation, their might be little ears who are paying attention and they’re going to internalize some of those things.”

Kinman and Butler advise picking another day to talk about difficult topics and instead, focus on family and food.

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