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Setting boundaries at Christmas

Family laughing around a Christmas dinner table

It’s that time of the year again, when we are beginning to think about setting boundaries at Christmas. Going into the busy Christmas season can be a real challenge to our relationships with friends, family and loved ones.

While it might be a happy time for some it can also be a time when guilt and expectations of perceived social expectations can feel stressful. Sometimes we can be inclined to let boundaries move and change because “It’s Christmas”. As we let our boundaries slip we may start to feel overwhelmed or pressured. So how do we set healthy boundaries at Christmas with friends and family?

Setting boundaries by saying no at Christmas.

Say no! You are permitted to say no to doing things you don’t want to do. It’s your time and your Christmas break, so saying no is ok. You don’t need to explain. But if you feel the need to, “I would love to but I just can’t,” is a good band aid sentence until you are ready to say no.

If this is your first time setting boundaries with family, it is important to address only one boundary at a time. If you try to set a bunch at the same time, the other person may feel attacked, overwhelmed and confused.

Set your boundaries early and in a calm moment

It’s helpful to set boundaries before the predicted conflict. Leaving it till “the heat of the moment”, at a time when everyone’s distressed is not going to be beneficial to anyone. Find a neutral time and location to set the boundary.

The neutral times can also be a good spaces to reconfirm your boundaries if they are challenged. Be consistent with your boundaries and calmly repeat what you will and wont be doing at Christmas.

Focus on mutual respect in your language.

Use “I” language when setting boundaries. This will enable you to share you feelings without making assumptions. Try the following approach when speaking to someone who is hard to establish boundaries with.

“I feel __________ when you __________.”

A working example may be –  “I feel really uncomfortable when you hug me.”

Then explain your needs :

“I need___________. I need to limit your hugs to just one when you say goodbye.”

It’s important that people feel validated when you set boundaries, so some validation may include,

“I care about you, I know it’s not your intention to make me uncomfortable, It means a lot to me that you’re willing to listen to what I have to say.”

Setting boundaries is a healthy act and can prevent a lot of confusion and miscommunication in our relationships.

Christmas can be stressful but we hope you can use some of these tips to calm some of the waters in this busy season.


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