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15 Ways To Keep the Election Results From Spoiling Your Family's Thanksgiving

Emotions are running high after the 2016 presidential election, and the headlines continue to spur heated discussion. For families with members on both sides of the political aisle, that’s a perfect recipe for clashes at Thanksgiving dinner.

Two National Louis University psychology professors say that arguments don’t need to happen, and offer tips for Thanksgiving hosts and guests to use to keep peace in the family.

  1. Start from a place of loving each other, and remember that despite differences, bonds of family unite everyone, urged Claudia Pitts, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at National Louis University. That mindset will set the tone for the day.
  2. When guests walk in the door, hosts can ask them to write at least one thing they’re thankful for on a poster board, or even on paper leaves hung on a decorative branch. People feeling grateful for blessings aren’t combative, commented Susan Thorne-Devin, LCSW, assistant professor in National Louis University’s counseling program.
  3. A “defuse, distract and decline” strategy can keep the peace. “Defuse means to soften what others say—for example, if someone implied Hillary Clinton was a warmonger, you could say, ‘oh, I see you’re worried about the safety of people in other countries,’” Pitts said. “Distract could be, ‘How did you make this delicious stuffing?’ And decline is more direct: ‘I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to ruin the holiday.’” Then change the subject to something neutral, like food, entertainment or shared memories.
  4. Invite a buffer person, such as a friend who has no relatives in town, suggested Thorne-Devin. Family members who usually squabble might put on their best behavior because a new person is present.
  5. No one can control what others say, but they can control their reaction, Thorne-Devin reminded. “When someone is talking about their politics, you don’t have to engage. You can just listen without having to insert your point of view. Remember that the relationship is more important than ‘being right’ on a single issue.”
  6.  Guests can set up a code word, such as “bananas,” with someone who will have their backs, suggested Pitts. If the conversation starts getting heated, they can say to their safe person, “Did you buy the bananas?” and he or she can rescue you by changing the conversation topic or whisking you away to help in the kitchen.
  7. Hosts can take a proactive approach when they invite guests to Thanksgiving dinner, requesting that guests not talk about politics, said Thorne-Devin. “Or put a sign on the door saying, ‘a politics-free day,’” she suggested.
  8. When guests arrive, if possible, have them park their cars in a place where they can get out easily. What could be more awkward than leaving a gathering because of an uncle’s tirade and then having to ask that uncle to back up his car so you can get out of the driveway?
  9. Think about seating arrangements. If a young nephew has been marching in protests, seating him next to curmudgeonly Uncle Bob might not be a good choice, Thorne-Devin observed.
  10. When guests take their seats, the host or family matriarch or patriarch can set things off on the right foot by asking everyone to hold hands and say a prayer or a few words of inspiration, or invite people to state what they’re grateful for, suggested Thorne-Devin.
  11. Beware of alcohol. “It disinhibits people, makes them feel emotional and say things they wouldn’t normally say,” Pitts cautioned. Hosts can water down the drinks, serve a punch lightened with club soda, or ask drinkers to help with tasks, like setting napkins.
  12. Get enough sleep, Pitts reminded. People who are overtired, whether they hit the bars Wednesday or rose at 5 a.m. to prep the turkey, can be irritable and snap at others.
  13. Humor can help lighten the mood, but can also be a double-edged sword. Pitts noted that someone could start ridiculing a politician, then claim they were only joking. “What I think is funny, someone else may not,” she said, urging guests to exercise courtesy.
  14. Likewise, football can be a good distraction or a source of divisiveness, if guests root for different teams. “Better to go outside and toss a football around,” Pitts remarked.
  15. If people start attacking each other, guests can simply make apologies to the host and leave, both professors said. Hopefully, they can catch up with family again at the next holiday gathering. Or maybe not. “Sometimes, the dysfunctional family should be avoided,” Pitts said. “I’m not talking about just politics—it’s about people who hurt you. Self-care is important, and you’ll see your family again.”


About National Louis University
Founded in 1886, National Louis is a nonprofit, non-denominational University offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in fields of education, management, human services, counseling, public policy, and others concerned with human and community development. From its inception, National Louis has provided educational access to adult, immigrant and minority populations – a mission it sustains today.  National Louis is well-known for an exceptional history in teacher preparation, and continues to be a leader in educating future teachers and community leaders to succeed in urban environments. For more information, visit


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