The festive season seems to be one of those times of year where family conflict has the potential to intensify quicker than usual.

There’s gift-giving to plan, food to prepare, shopping to do, presents to wrap, cards to send, and often guests to entertain.

Whether it’s siblings fighting over their presents, or parents arguing about who to invite to Christmas Day festivities, these simple steps from family mediation specialist Ian Shann may be a good starting point when it comes to dealing with family conflicts.

With willpower, determination and empathy, you can get through the holidays!

Accept & Acknowledge There Is A Conflict

First, you need to acknowledge whatever the problem is.

It could be an argument over where your family will spend Christmas Day, how much is appropriate to spend on gifts, or even who you want to buy gifts for this year.

Talk to those involved, whether it’s your children, the whole household, or your extended family. Including everyone that’s involved in the issue in acknowledging the issue will start the process of resolving the conflict.

Once you’ve acknowledged the issue, it’s time to talk about it.

Establish Communication Rules

Before you discuss anything, make sure you set some clear ground rules for your communication.

Decide how you will communicate – face to face, on the phone or a video call (depending on who is involved). Choose a time that works best for everyone so it’s not biased towards one person or another.

No shouting, no name calling, no blame games. Try and avoid “right” and “wrong” – really, these are just each person’s own perceptions.

If things get heated, take a break to give everyone a chance to calm down before going any further.

Aim to resolve the issue peacefully – making one person feel like they’ve ‘lost’ is not going to resolve the conflict completely as this may lead to them harbouring some resentment.

Talk It Out

Now comes the actual talking.

Discuss the issue or issues with your family members and give everyone a chance to speak without being interrupted. Family meetings can work really well for this.

Listen actively, try to see where others are coming from and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. Don’t just sit and wait for your chance to speak or work out what your response is going to be.  Really listen! And make sure it’s without judgment.

Of course you’re not always going to agree straightaway (especially if it’s your child asking for a $2000 MacBook for Christmas and your budget is more like $50!), but make the effort to really listen and acknowledge their opinions.

Be Prepared To Compromise

Being part of a family often means you all have to compromise at some point or another. The festive season doesn’t change this.

Try to envisage what would be a good outcome for everyone – not just the best outcome for you personally.

You might want to spend Christmas Day with your parents, but your partner also wants to spend the day with theirs. Try to compromise by perhaps spending the morning with your parents, and the afternoon with theirs.

Most of the time, everyone involved in does want to reach an amicable resolution – no-one enjoys fighting, especially during the holidays.

Final Thoughts

Remember that conflict during the festive season is completely normal for most families.

The trick is to stay calm, and try to resolve it quickly and calmly when it arises.

Christmas is meant to be a happy, family-oriented time of year – so don’t let it be marred by letting conflicts get in the way of you all enjoying your break together.


Ian Shann is the principal mediator and director of Move On Mediation in Perth.

Move On offers affordable and effective divorce and family mediation in Perth for separating couples.

Ian’s commitment is simple – to help keep separated couples out of the Family Court and minimise their need for lawyers, saving them time, money and anguish.

Under Ian’s guidance, separated couples are able to Move On with their lives through amicable divorce mediation.