Setting boundaries during the holidays can be tricky. We are rushed in a million directions all while trying to do what is best for our children and ourselves, hello mental load of motherhood. It is also a wonderful time of year when we get to spend so much time with loved ones, but extended time with family isn’t always easy.

Often, other people’s belief systems, values and feelings can be projected onto us. For instance, “You hold your baby too much. You don’t want them to become spoiled, do you?” or “Give grandma a hug, it makes me sad when you don’t.” Setting boundaries with family is hard even in the best of times, so how do we set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our families over the holidays without feeling guilt?

Related: 9 ways mamas can share the mental load this holiday season

For years I found this difficult, even as a Clinical Psychologist. But then I learned some tools and techniques that make setting holiday boundaries easier. As the holiday season approaches, I would like to share some of those so that you can look forward to the holidays with calm confidence. By gaining self-awareness and using healthy communication and praise, you will become a master at setting boundaries with family during the holidays—and upholding them in any situation.

3 tips for setting boundaries during the holidays

1. Get on the same page with your partner

Begin by taking some time to gain some really important self-awareness with your partner by asking yourselves these questions:

What are our top three values?

Why are they important to us?

What are the events we want to spend together as a family unit this year?

Which boundaries do we want to uphold this year?

What things are we OK to let go of?

By communicating with your partner and taking time out to engage with these questions in advance, you and your partner will be a stronger, more self-aware united front. Not only that, but by making a decision on the boundaries you want to set this year, you can support one another in communicating and upholding your boundaries. Feeling confident in the boundaries you want to set will also support you in feeling less guilt. Guilt is one of those things that likes to creep up on you, but by gaining confidence in your choices and supporting your partner’s, it will have a lot less power over you. 

Related: 10 holiday hacks to save you time—and stress

2. Communicate your boundaries

Once you have your boundaries chosen, it is time to practice communicating them. How we communicate makes a big difference in how others respond. By using statements combined with reflective and empathetic listening, we are able to not only set our boundaries, but also uphold them.

Let’s say you want to spend Christmas morning at home as a family unit and need to communicate that to your parents. Try saying, “We have decided to spend Christmas morning as a family to create some of our own traditions, which is really important to us,” followed by, “Thank you for respecting our choice and supporting us. We are really looking forward to coming over for Christmas lunch.”

You are setting a boundary without leaving room for your family to misinterpret it or feel hurt. Instead, you are sharing your boundary, asking for them to support it and letting them know you still care about them. If your family member expresses hurt feelings, you can reply with, “I can imagine it will be hard for you to have Christmas morning without us. Change is hard.” Here, you are reflecting back and empathizing with your loved one so that they feel heard and supported while still upholding your boundary. By doing so, you are engaging in an important act of self-care—especially during the holidays.

Give yourself and your loved ones grace as you implement your new holiday boundaries. 

3. Praise others for respecting your boundaries

Research shows time and time again that praise changes behavior. Therefore, if we want others to respect our boundaries, we must praise them for doing so. I know it seems silly to praise your mother-in-law, sister, dad or friend—but I promise you it will make for a big change.

So this year, when your mother asks your child if they want a hug and doesn’t guilt them when they say no, give her positive feedback. Let her know you see her supporting you and making a change. This can be in private. “Thanks, Mom, for respecting Sarah’s body boundary.” Or you can provide feedback right as it happens. “Sarah, thank you for telling grandma your boundary. Grandma, thank you for respecting Sarah!”

Now that you have mastered these three boundary-setting tools, you will be a pro at setting boundaries with family during the holidays—and upholding them. Not only that, but you will feel calmer, more confident and guilt free. All of which we can use a little more of during the holiday season. Lastly, just a friendly reminder that change doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself and your loved ones grace as you implement your new holiday boundaries. 

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