Thanksgiving Table Playbook

Thanksgiving Table Playbook

Ahhh, November and all the things that come with it. The leaves falling, the chilly weather, the afternoons of baking! November also kicks off the start of the holiday season which can be super exciting but potentially a little daunting because of tricky family dynamics and unspoken pressure or expectations. We’re setting out to ease your anxieties around the holidays with a Thanksgiving Table Playbook written with the help of our good friend, Kylie Lahey, LCSW. 

After reading our playbook we hope that you feel prepared (even excited!), ready for family time, and are able to reduce any anxieties that may come with the holiday season. After-all, playbooks aren’t only for Thanksgiving Day football!

Thanksgiving Table Playbook: how to navigate sticky situations during the holiday season.

In anticipation of awkward conversations, prepare neutralizing, canned responses. 

If you really don’t want to talk about it, use humor to balance your frustration without giving them a reason to tell you to “lighten up”. When Grandma asks, “When are we going to see you bring a +1 (or a baby!) to a holiday, sweetie?”, you can respond with something like, “Grandma, climbing the corporate ladder at my 9-5 is providing me with all the love, attention, and purpose I need!” or “Grandma, we have our hands full with our sweet chihuahua fur baby - we are NOT ready to bring a human child into the mix!”. You can’t control others’ expectations and therefore don’t have to defend yourself against them.

Use redirection to your advantage - “Grandma, I don’t have a +1, but I did get a promotion and a raise last month!” Feel free to share things you are excited to talk about so others don’t have to fish for topics to connect with you.

People love to talk about themselves; you can always change the subject to them! It can even be helpful to do a little research on social media about your family’s whereabouts (maybe a trip, promotion, or a new pet?) to promote personalized conversation topics, which also shows your intentionality and care.

People are most often more self-conscious of their own stuff than remembering something embarrassing about you. If you say or do something you regret, you can always apologize, but don’t be too hard on yourself - it’s likely no one else even noticed.

Enter the day with an open mind; if you’re looking for something, you’ll likely find it.

Give yourself and others a chance to surprise you with their behavior or contribution to the event. You can find at least one thing you like about everyone you meet… so even if it’s someone’s sense of style or a shared love of reality TV, work the connection to your advantage versus setting yourself up to be annoyed by your differences.

Friendly reminder: you aren’t responsible for others’ emotions; they’re also not responsible for yours.

Another person’s behavior or mood doesn’t have to influence yours; and neither do others have to mold to however you’re feeling. Help in the kitchen to avoid conflictual football banter, give attention to the grandkids to prevent being bossed around in the kitchen, or start the acapella chorus at the table if you’re feeling jovial. Give yourself permission to be present with whatever role you choose, and the event will end up better than you expected when you focus on your own contribution!

If someone is trying to influence you in a decision, idea, or opportunity, just remember:

Every “yes” you say means you’re saying “no” to something else; and sometimes, saying “no” can mean a “yes” to something better for you.

Use your nervous system to your advantage.

Be sure to inhale and exhale fully in stressful moments and use temperature change like holding an iced drink or stepping outside for chilly air if you need to calm down. 


Above all else, know that even the most memorable and enjoyable of experiences can have stressful moments within them. All we can do is show up, be present, keep an open mind, and take care of ourselves. Thanksgiving and holiday chaos has nothing on you – you've got this!

Credentials: Kylie Lahey, LCSW