From snarky retorts to replies that shut the conversation down completely, here are all the ways to deal with the comments you dread each holiday season

Gathering with family at the holidays can be wonderful, but for some, it can also be fraught with misunderstandings, insults, and worse. It’s not always intentional, of course. Cultural differences, varied life experiences, and a lack of exposure to outside ideas can all contribute to these clashes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t already have a prepared response to an insult that may come your way. You don’t have to sit silently when someone makes a snide remark about you grabbing a second helping of pie or when you’re finally going to get a “real” job. So what are some polite responses to rude comments you can have in your back pocket?

First, “Be realistic about what you’re walking into,” says Mariel Benjamin, LCSW and VP of Groups and Content for Cooper. “This includes not imagining that people have changed, that old fights are over, or that you’ll magically be a more patient person.”

Instead, Benjamin recommends reconsidering your boundaries (like spending less time by staying at a hotel), or even setting some ground rules in advance. She also suggests bringing items that might create a better atmosphere, “ like old photo albums to share in happy memories, or conversation cards for dinner talk that avoids politics.”

Dr. Glenn Doyle, licensed psychologist and trauma specialist at Insight Therapy Solutions, says it can also be helpful to “remind yourself that someone saying something does not make it true and that certain people are just projecting their issues or looking to get a reaction out of you.”

Modern-day etiquette expert and co-founder of Fresh Starts Registry Jenny Dreizen also reminds parents to prepare their children for these situations.

“Tell them that if they hear anything that makes them uneasy or someone says something to them that is uncomfortable, they are not compelled to answer and that they should come find you,” says Dreizen. She recommends moving with them to a private area to strategize together, whether that means interjecting into the original conversation, leaving the party, or just staying by your child’s side the rest of the evening.

“Making our kids feel safe, seen, and comfortable is always paramount,” says Dreizen.

Now here are some polite responses to rude comments to keep in your back pocket before your next gathering:

When someone tries to body shame you

“If there’s a comment about your body I would respond by saying, ‘I love my body for what it does for me rather than just focusing on what it looks like,’” says Jennifer Kelman, LCSW and therapist with JustAnswer. She says humor or self-deprecation is also usually helpful here.

Doyle agrees. “If you feel up to going the humorous route, you could respond by thanking them, stating you’ve been working out and you’re glad your body has caught their eye,” he says. “Otherwise, rolling your eyes, shrugging, and refusing to acknowledge their comment is my preferred route. Remember: the goal is to deny them the humiliated or disempowered reaction they’re after.”

When someone comments about what you’re eating

Dreizen recommends ignoring or deflecting the comment with humor by saying something such as, “Yes, thank you, it is a lot of food, and I am really looking forward to enjoying it. You enjoy yours!”

“My favorite response to any kind of shaming is somewhat sarcastic: pretending you’ve never heard that point of view before, thanking them profusely for their concern, and maybe asking them for more of their fascinating, helpful viewpoint,” adds Doyle.

For those who don’t enjoy sarcasm, he recommends shifting the attention to something or someone else, “the goal being to make the person who tried to shame you feel silly and petty.”

Bryana Kappadakunnel, LMFT and founder of Conscious Mommy, offers these quick conversation-ending responses: “I’m not open to discussing my diet. Let’s change the subject” or “I’m happy with my food choices and would appreciate it if you would please stop making comments. Thank you.”

When someone insults your parenting

“Most people hurl insults without any real awareness as to how they’ll land. Or, they want to return to a familiar pattern of engagement, usually one that starts with criticism, continues with defensiveness, and ends with someone wielding power over the other. Avoid that trap by staying clear, firm, and repetitive,” says Kappadakunnel. She offers the following scripts to ensure the listener understands that their feedback is not wanted:

“I feel good about our parenting choices. When I need your help, I’ll ask for it.”

“I understand I’m doing it differently from how you raised us. That is my personal choice, and I hope you can respect it.”

When someone insults your job or career

“This would be an incredible overstep and I would let the other person know that this is what interests you and this is where you feel happiest irrespective of how they feel about your career choice,” says Kelman.

Doyle meanwhile offers a therapy technique called “verbal judo.”

“If someone makes an insulting remark about your job or career, find something about their criticism to sort of agree with (‘You’re right, the money isn’t great,’ ‘You’re right, it’s not exactly what I wanted to do with my degree’), but then flip it on them with something you do like or is great about your current job (‘…but it gives me the flexibility I need now,’ ‘…but it’s a good placeholder while I look for my next job’),” says Doyle.

Dreizen offers a short and sweet response: “You know what, I am not looking for input on my career right now.”

When someone insults your relationship status or partner

“How to respond to negative comments about your relationship or partner might depend on several factors: whether your partner is with you at the event, how important your relationship is with whoever made the comment or whoever is hosting the event, and your personal tolerance for enduring or brushing off such comments,” says Doyle. He says he prefers to avoid responding to negative comments about a partner with humor as they may feel betrayed.

Kappadakunnel offers the following responses:

​”I’m not okay with you speaking poorly about my partner. Excuse me.” (Then walk away.)

“I feel comfortable with my relationship status, even if being single isn’t something you would choose.”

“My relationship/relationship status is not something I’m willing to discuss with you.”

When someone makes bigoted remarks or wants to turn the conversation into a politically heated debate

“In the old movie War Games, there is a line, ‘The only winning move is not to play.’ While it’s tempting to address these comments in real-time, getting into an unwinnable, uncomfortable argument with someone you see once or twice a year might not be worth it in the long run,” says Benjamin. “A simple, ‘I don’t agree with you and I don’t think this will result in a productive conversation’ followed by a change in subject will set a tone.”

Benjamin says if they double down, it’s totally fine to exit the conversation.

“More important is that, if these topics come up in front of your children, that you have a discussion with them following this, letting them know that you don’t agree with these views and that your child understands why those views are objectionable,” she adds. “If it’s about something that is offensive, bigoted, or cruel, make it clear that you not only disagree but that it’s an unacceptable viewpoint to hold.” She says this is a good time to remind them that family can be complicated and that you don’t always automatically get along or even have to agree with them.

If things get especially offensive, Kapaddakunnel offers the following line to shut things down: “I will not engage in discussions that discriminate against others. Please stop, or we will need to get going.”

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