Dolly Doctor

How to fix your family feud

Hot days, long car trips and hours spent in close quarters. Yep, holiday season can be a breeding ground for fights in the fam.

Hot days, long car trips and hours spent in close quarters. Yep, holiday season can be a breeding ground for fights in the fam.

When a group of guys stopped Sophie, 15, as her family walked through the caravan park and asked her to hang out, Sophie's mum was not impressed. "Immediately she told me sternly to ignore them and keep walking with my head down," said Sophie. "When I tried to explain to her that it would be nice to get to know some friends in the park while we were staying there, a big argument erupted. Mum thought I was too young to be hanging around boys and I thought I was too old to be lunching with the parents."

As Sophie and her family discovered, family holidays can mean prime conflict time. "Families tend to fight over the holidays because it's a more stressful time of year with a lot going on," says psychologist Gemma Cribb. "Also, families tend to spend more time together at these times, giving more opportunities for disagreements."

On your next family trip, if you're being shuffled between bunking with your younger bro and sitting on a beach under your parents' giant umbrella, all whilst having a tiff with each and every one of them, read on. We show you how to keep your cool in even the most cray cray family sitch.

Why Families Fight
According to psychologist Elizabeth Seeley-Wait, relatives often quarrel over the holidays because they're around each other more than usual. "Normally the annoying things your family members do may not come up as much," says Elizabeth. "There's also this preconceived notion that we don't have to try with our family and that they will love us no matter what mood we are in."

Gemma says we can get in these little tiffs as a direct consequence of feeling frazzled as tension grows. "Our brains are wired to react to an argument as a 'danger' and so our bodies release stress hormones when we fight. When stress levels are high at this time of year, often our reactions to the people closest in our lives can be out of proportion with the offence and we might find ourselves saying and doing things that we later regret because we've been hyper-reactive," says Gemma.

When You're Fighting With Your Parents
Arguments with the olds are no fun. "A lot of girls tend to fight with their parents more often than not and this causes them to resent their parents over time and strain the relationship in general," says Elizabeth. Although it can be difficult to be cooped up in a small space with your rellos, it's important for you to put in some effort to get along with them, says Elizabeth. "Although some time out is necessary, you can't have a decent relationship with anyone by just staying in your room," she says. "Hang out with them and try doing some structured activities like playing a board game or going shopping."

When You're Fighting With Your Siblings
For Brianna, 13, long car trips spell arguments with her siblings. "My sisters and I always fight in the car and it sets a really bad start to the holiday," she says. "If we spend too much time together, we fight over everything from where we should go to what restaurant we should eat at and whose turn it is to use the hair straightener."

While it's normal to have fights with your brothers and sisters, Elizabeth says it's important to pick your battles. "Try and do something with them that's less likely to cause problems," says Elizabeth. This could be going for a swim or playing a game of backyard cricket together. Gemma warns of the consequences of dobbing on your siblings after a tiff. "The temptation is to go to Mum or Dad and try and get allies on your side," she says. "It's best to try and sort it out directly with your siblings first."

When Your Parents Argue
For as long as Alyce, 16, can remember, her parents have fought around holiday time. "Mum gets super wound up about the small stuff and Dad just ends up yelling at her about it. It's so uncomfortable sitting at dinner when no one is talking to each other. I pretty much always end up in the middle trying to get them to talk," says Alyce.

Instead of trying to strike up a peace treaty between your parents, Gemma suggests pulling each aside for a little chat. "Communicate to both parents how it feels for you to hear them fighting and that you would like them to try to be more aware of when and where they choose to argue," she says.

Elizabeth adds that you should broach the subject casually. "Say something like, 'I feel really upset when you two fight. It's really bothering me. Is it possible that most of the arguing is done when I'm not around?'" says Elizabeth. If this fails, Gemma suggests finding a place to retreat to so that you can escape the fighting. "Remember, it's not your job to resolve your parents' issues," she says.

3 rules of fighting
If an argument does arise between you and a family member, Gemma shows how to help diffuse the situation by asking yourself three questions.

  1. Am I choosing the most appropriate time to say what I feel?
    1. Am I saying what I feel from the "I" perspective as opposed to criticising or blaming others? For example, "I feel unheard" rather than "You never listen to me!"
    2. Am I communicating to my family that I'm listening to them and trying to understand their perspective? For example, "Mum, I hear that you really want me to go to Grandma's but..."

If You Need An Escape Route...
Grab some "me time"! "Tell your family what you need and organise to go for a walk or plan time by yourself," says Gemma. "If this is impossible, then taking time out by tuning in to music on your iPod or getting absorbed in a good book or movie can refocus your attention away from people around you."

Elizabeth suggests trying a new activity like paddle boarding, having a deep and meaningful with your friend on the phone or going for a walk. Another good strategy is to practise being present. "Have a good look around. Try to notice everything you can like the smell of the air, the sound of birds and the leaves rustling, the feel of your feet on the pavement. Being really present like this can give your mind a break from worries and pick up your mood," says Elizabeth.