Conflict Illustration

As the semester is wrapping up, we come closer to the holiday season. Students will be able to travel back home to visit their family and celebrate their family traditions. While it may create fun times and happy memories, it can also create conflict among family members. 

For freshman mechanical engineering major  Will Winter, the holidays can be extra stressful. Winter said the hardest part about family conflict is “the fact that they are your family, so even if you come to hate them, you still have to see them on the occasion.” 

The Center for Dispute Resolution is an on-campus resource that handles a variety of conflict and communication issues. They recently held a workshop in the Plaster Student Union, organized by communications professor and Center for Dispute Resolution Director Char Berquist and Associate Director of the Center for Dispute Resolution Heather Blades, about ways to help to deal with family conflicts during this season.

The presentation addressed conflict surrounding political views, gift-giving and working over the holidays. They said stress is the biggest reason families experience conflict.

The Center for Dispute Resolution’s presentation discussed the often stressful nature of the holidays. “Cultural expectations of happiness and perfection” are  cited as factors that escalate stress, sometimes leading to conflict. 

“We have unvoiced expectations that we should be perfect, our family should be perfect, our house should be perfect, the celebration should be perfect,” said the presenter. 

Berquist said lowering the expectations of the holidays can reduce the stress families experience. 

 “Life is not like a Hallmark movie; it’s never going to be perfect like these movies,” Berquist said. 

The presentation outlined the need to manage expectations and be realistic about the holidays. 

“No one will be perfect, set reasonable goals for yourself, be flexible and ‘go with the flow’ if things don’t go according to plan,” Berquist said.

Conflict can arise when there is little alone time for family members. Berquist said planning a schedule that gives everyone time to be alone or separated is a good way to reduce the long periods of time the family spends together. She said allowing time for breaks can help reduce tension and conflicts. 

For students like Winter, this method is effective. Winter said he deals with conflict by trying to distract himself and diffuse the conflict.

“If you need to, walk away and cool off from a heated situation,” Winter said.

For year-round family conflicts, Berquist said to address issues around instead of directly during the holidays.

Berquist said the best way to handle these situations is to calmly address issues around the holidays to resolve them.

If conflict with family is too much, the CDR recommends spending the holidays without family.

Another tip the CDR gave is to “anticipate conflicts and your reactions.” They said planning reactions can give you the extra step of how to handle situations better than just anticipating the conflict.

The CDR said if you only anticipate conflict occurring, it will prime your mind for an argument. They said by planning your reaction, it allows you to think through conflicts in a calmer manner. 

Winter finds a support system has also been helpful in coping with family conflict. 

“My close friends know what I go through so they are always there to cheer me up and vice versa,” Winter said.

Winter said he recommends finding a stress reliever to help maintain composure when conflict starts. 

“If you fight the conflict with anger you’ll make it escalate and fast,” Winter said.

The CDR has ways students can contact them and set up meetings for those who struggle with family and other conflict issues. 

The CDR will be holding similar workshops in the spring semester. In January, they will be holding a Feedback for Improvement workshop to better improve communication skills. 

In April, they will be holding a workshop in the PSU over Communication and Conflict Coaching.