Navigating the Holiday Season: Key Phrases to Avoid and Strategies to Minimize Conflict

Dec 18, 2023Counseling0 comments

The holiday season, while joyous for many, can be a source of increased stress and anxiety, particularly for individuals with behavioral challenges.

It’s critical to learn how to navigate this yearly time period with sensitivity and awareness. In this article, we’ll discuss how to create a supportive environment by familiarizing yourself with key phrases to avoid and strategies that will help minimize conflict during the holidays.

Why are the Holidays so stressful for some people?

During the holidays, individuals with behavioral challenges may face heightened stress due to disrupted routines, social pressures, and sensory overloads common in festive environments. Understanding these triggers is key. Awareness of these challenges helps in tailoring communication and activities to be more inclusive and less overwhelming.

Furthermore, there tend to be a number of phrases or even types of language (no matter how well-intentioned) that can be triggering.

For example, saying “Everyone loves the holidays!” can alienate those who struggle during this season. Similarly, phrases like “Just relax, it’s a party” can undermine an individual’s feelings.

As a general guideline, it’s important to use language that is inclusive and does not impose expectations on how one should feel or behave.

Here are a few others to know about:

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

Why It’s Problematic: Similar to the first phrase, this sets an expectation that the holidays are universally joyful, which isn’t true for everyone.

Alternative Approach: “The holidays can be tough for many reasons. How are you handling this season?”

“You should be more cheerful!”

Why It’s Problematic: This phrase disregards an individual’s emotional state and imposes an expectation of how they should feel.

Alternative Approach: “I’m here if you want to talk about how you’re feeling.”

“But this is how we’ve always celebrated (or done it).”

Why It’s Problematic: This phrase resists change and fails to consider the diverse needs of all individuals.

Alternative Approach: “We’re open to new ways of celebrating. What traditions or activities would you feel comfortable with?”

Start by Listening More Effectively

This includes active listening, where you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. It’s also crucial to validate feelings rather than dismissing them. Consistency in communication helps in setting clear expectations and reduces the potential for misunderstandings.

Factoring in the Right Environment

Adapting holiday celebrations can make a significant difference. This might mean offering quieter spaces for those who may get overwhelmed by noise, or providing clear information about event schedules to help those who need routine. Promoting an organization-wide understanding of these adaptations cultivates an inclusive and empathetic culture.

Be Prepared

When conflicts arise, it’s important to approach them with empathy. Recognize the signs of distress and respond calmly and supportively. De-escalation techniques, like maintaining a calm tone and offering to move to a quieter space, can be effective. In situations that escalate beyond comfort levels, knowing when and how to seek professional support is crucial.


The holidays can be a challenging time, but with thoughtful communication, empathy, and adjustments, organizations can significantly ease the experience for individuals with behavioral challenges. By being proactive and compassionate, you can make a real difference in creating a supportive and inclusive environment.

Learn more about our workshop series designed to help you minimize behavioral crisis and manage conflict:

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