Expert advice on how to handle awkward holiday situations

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The advice from doctors this holiday season is to skip those crowded holiday parties, but what if family or coworkers insist on gathering? What should you do?

The holidays, under normal circumstances, can present some uncomfortable situations, whether it's dodging questions from Aunt Edna about whether you still have that ugly sweater or explaining to Uncle Rob why you're not married.

With COVID-19 thrown into the mix, the awkwardness can go into overload.

"I am really trying to stress to people this year to release yourself from the obligation of over-explaining your position," said Elain Swann, CEO of the Swann School of Protocol, a nationwide etiquette training institute.

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This year, if you're having to turn down invitations to various gatherings due to the pandemic, Swann says it's perfectly OK to make your decision short and sweet. No explanations are needed because sometimes it can get uncomfortable, especially if you feel like the party may not be safe enough to attend.

"If you decline an event and your boss or coworker digs a little deeper and asks 'why?' your response should be, 'Well, this year I want to do everything I can to protect you, so I'm not going to attend.'" Swann said.

Swann adds that sending a bottle of wine or some cookies or a cheese plate from a local business to the gathering could be a nice a way to take the sting away from not going.

As for relaying your declined invite, it's important to make your decisions quickly and relay it to whoever invited you.

"It is absolutely perfect to reply to an event the same way you were invited," Swann said.

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This year, parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles may not be able to give gifts due to the financial strains of the pandemic. For children, this can be difficult to accept or understand.

"Try to get your children to focus on what they do have, as opposed to what they won't receive," Swann said.

These situations can be a great way to teach children empathy, according to Swann, and how to handle difficult situations with grace.

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