'No family is immune': Experts share tips for talking politics with family over the holidays

The conversation will inevitably come up at a family dinner, but how do you handle divisive political discourse over the holidays?

The holidays aren’t always as picture perfect as the meals on the table and especially when politics become the main course.

“Take winning off the table,” said retiring State Rep. Joann Ward (D-53A). “That way, no one loses.”

As a lawmaker, Ward knows all about political bickering and as a facilitator for the National Institute of Civil Discourse, she says the key is to be permeable.

Ward also knows one important truth: "No family is immune." 

“If you can recognize that humanity in each other person you have an opportunity to really value the relationship more than the issue,” Ward added.

“I think number one is to plan ahead,” said Dr. Joshua Stein.

Stein is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. He also says it’s best to “cope ahead”.

“Just like you plan dinner try and think of some topics that will work and some that won’t,” said Stein.

He suggested going in knowing which topics are off limits in your family.

“Whether that’s topics like abortion or topics like immigration or even for some families school reform, being aware of that and being aware when it’s too much,” he said.

He suggests you should be ready to turn the attention to a shared interest instead.

“Some really easy shared topics are things like football, how the kids are doing, talking about the gifts,” he said.

If that doesn’t diffuse matters, try an honest approach.

“Depending on the family, you can be direct and set some limits and just say, ‘You know Uncle Buck, that’s too far, let’s get back to this great turkey. Let’s get back to this great ham,’ and start to talk about those things,” Stein said.

From there, Stein says it’s important to have someone to go to, or have a place to retreat.

“Whether that’s your childhood bedroom at mom and dad’s house who you’re visiting, or even saying, ‘You know, I’m going to take the dog for a walk outside,’” Stein said.

Finally, have a distraction like cards or a board game on hand because a diversion can also be a saving grace.

“Finding that classic movie your family loves whether it’s Elf, whether it’s Christmas Vacation, I think throwing that on can lead to a quiet moment, can calm things down and step away from the politics,” Stein noted.

In addition, having that steadying influence in your life with you always helps, too. 

"Whether you're coming with your spouse or your brother and sister or that uncle you relax with, trying to step away from that big conversation that's happening and go into the other room and watch football and talk to that person," Stein said. "Someone who understands it, who can make light of it, help you find your humor again, help you come out of your emotional state and help you find your wisdom again." 

Rep. Ward will lead a talk to share how to best discuss politics with family over the holidays this Saturday at an event hosted by the League of Women Voters at Jerry’s Foods in Woodbury.