If we’re lucky, loving family gatherings are a regular part the holiday season. But family dynamics are complicated and there are many factors at play during the holidays. Hectic travel, overnight guests, different lifestyles, strong personalities, and a lot of history can have even the happiest of extended families dealing with stress and conflict intruding on the festivities.

With a little planning, perspective, and self-awareness, however, it’s possible to keep tension and arguments to a minimum.

  1. Celebrate on Your Schedule

Traffic, delays, and over crowded airports are a recipe for tired and cranky visitors. If you can, do your best to travel on off-peak days and encourage your family members to do the same.

If there’s a lot of travel or competing gatherings involved, it may even be time to consider celebrating on a different day. The whole point is to gather and enjoy each other’s company. If it’s easier for everyone to do that before or after the official date, then forget what the calendar says and revel in the extra relaxation.

  1. Leave Wanting More

No one wants to overstay their welcome or feel like they’re counting the minutes until visitors leave. Be honest and realistic with how long a visit should last. A little uncomfortable negotiating upfront will be rewarded when everyone’s sad they didn’t get more time together than the opposite.

  1. Stand Your Ground, Selectively

Conflicting opinions are an unavoidable part of family, and sometimes parents, aunts and uncles, and older siblings can cross a line by sharing theirs or ignoring yours. Only you can decide where that line is, but a good rule of thumb is to maintain control of issues that pertain to your immediate family’s health, safety and values. Depending on your children and parenting style, you may also need to be firm about enforcing a relatively normal schedule to help minimize the stress your kids feel.

Beyond that, however, it’s important to realize the value that everyone places on their own opinions. When you’re standing your ground, try to do so in a way that is still polite and respectful. When it comes to other issues, find ways to compromise or let others do things their way. It will show that you value their contributions and your relationship.

  1. Settle Issues Beforehand

Disagreements happen. If there’s an issue already in the air, go out of your way to resolve it before any family gatherings. It’s much more productive, and less embarrassing, to handle the situation one-on-one than to have it come to a head in front of your guests and taint memories of the holiday.

  1. Maintain Relationships All Year Long

We all have way too much competing for our attention these days. That makes it all too easy to go for months without connecting with family members, especially those who live far away. Keeping in touch in between the holidays is the best way to keep your relationships strong and avoid hurt feelings building up. A few minutes for a call, an occasional email, or even just random texting here and there can go a long way and will provide dividends throughout life, not just at the next family gathering.

Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!