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10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with the Dysfunctional Family

9. Provide escape routes. Togetherness is not for everyone. Make sure there are ways for the shyer or more intimidated to get away from the crowd. If most people will be watching football, set up a movie in another room for those who want out. Ask for help in the kitchen to give the overwhelmed person a graceful way to withdraw from the bore who is boring her. Set up a jigsaw puzzle on a card table in a corner so that people who don’t want to be part of the conversation have a way to occupy themselves and still be part of the party. Arrange with one of your co-conspirators to suggest a before- or after-dinner walk for people who need a breather.

10. After everyone leaves, reward yourself. Sink into your favorite chair and give yourself credit (and an extra piece of pie?) for trying to make a difference. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to make significant change in the habits and attitudes of a dysfunctional family. Any small step in the right direction is something to be thankful for. Good for you!

The Thanksgiving Conversation Game

This is a game the whole family can play. Make up a stack of cards with discussion starters on them. Brainstorm “starters” that will make people reminisce or laugh. Make sure to include cards that appeal to all ages. Some ideas are listed below.

To play the game, ask the person to your right to pick a card and read it. Each person at the table gets to answer. It’s fine for someone to “pass” if they don’t have something to say. After everyone has had a turn to respond, the deck gets passed to the next person to choose a card. And so on –

Sample starters:

  • What song brings up the happiest memories for you?
  • If you were a car, what kind would you be?
  • If you were given a thousand dollars with the rule that you couldn’t spend it on yourself, what would you do with it?
  • What was the best day of your life so far?
  • If you could change places with a celebrity, who would it be and why?
  • If you could go to a fancy restaurant and price were no object, where would you go and what would you order?
  • What is the best way to cheer you up when you’re down?
  • What is the one thing you’ve done in your life that you are proudest of?
  • What was your favorite childhood game or toy? (For kids – What is it now?)
  • If you formed a band, what would you name it? What kind of music would you play?
  • If you had the choice of a day: Would you rather choose a day 10 years ago or a day 10 years from now?
  • If you could have 1 superpower, what would it be?
  • If you could live somewhere else for a year, where would you go?
  • If you knew you were going to spend a year in a science station in Antarctica, what 3 things would you most want to take with you to do when you weren’t working?
  • What do you think is the secret to staying young at heart?
  • When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Do you remember why? (For kids: What do you think you’d like to be and why?)
  • What bargain would you love to find on eBay or at a garage sale?
  • What do you really, really hope someone will invent soon?
  • If someone gave you a gift certificate for a tattoo, what would you get and where would you put it?
  • Which would you rather be: A famous athlete, a great singer, or an important politician?
10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with the Dysfunctional Family

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). 10 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving with the Dysfunctional Family. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.