How to Be Kinder to the People in Your Life This Year

How much to tip your dog walker, plus tips to become a better coworker in time for the New Year.

Christmas dog

Photo illustration by C.J. Burton

Love the Ones You’re With

Guilty of neglecting the most important people in your life? Just in time for new year’s resolutions, we asked local experts for a little relationship advice.

Be a Better Parent

Chill Out. No, seriously. All of that worry about grades, SAT scores, and making the team? “It doesn’t really matter!” says child psychologist Ellen Braaten, codirector of Mass General’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. “Parents of kids in Boston are generally more anxious about their achievements than in other areas of the country.” Taking the pressure off, even a little bit, isn’t just good for their well-being; it’s good for yours, too.

Keep Things Structured (When You Can). “Kids like limits. They help them always know what [to expect], and handle their anxieties,” Braaten says. But with nightly shindigs and what seems like an endless flow of treats, rules tend to get broken in December—and that’s okay. “During the holidays, acknowledge that it’s going to be different,” Braaten suggests. “Being structured about how you’re going to let go of structure is important.”

Do Less. It seems almost quaint in this month of checklists and long car rides on 95, but Braaten says it’s important to make time to do, well, nothing at all with your family. “Hanging out is important at the holidays, and also in general in our fast-paced culture,” she says. Just “don’t always make it about hanging out in front of the TV.”

Be a Better Partner

Have an Attitude of Gratitude. “So many people define their relationship by what’s lacking,” says Boston-based relationship coach Samantha Burns. Instead, she recommends making time for daily “pillow talk,” during which you and your loved one each say thanks for the little things the other did. An added benefit? “You start changing your own behavior because you want your partner to have something they can genuinely thank you for.”

Speak Each Other’s Love Language. “We all like to receive love in different ways,” Burns explains. “It’s your job to figure out how to speak your partner’s love language.” Some people respond best to a thoughtful gift; others prefer spending quality time strolling down Newbury Street together. The best way to find out what your partner needs? Ask, “How can I make you feel more loved today?”

Take Inventory. Of your relationship, that is. “Many couples shy away from processing their relationship; they don’t want to rock the boat,” Burns says. Scheduling weekly or monthly chats that let you express any concerns and talk about your feelings is much, much healthier. “It’s a great way to practice open communication and empathy.”

Be a Better Coworker

Pick Up the Slack. “Everyone is so overworked that the idea of doing one more thing is overwhelming,” says Janna Koretz, who helps people navigate career-related struggles through her Back Bay–based practice Azimuth Psychological. But since we’re all in the same boat, why not lend a hand wherever we can? Even something as simple as helping the mailroom assistant bring in a box can go a long way toward being seen as a team player.

Reframe the Conversation. Words and tone matter, especially when you’re having an emotionally difficult discussion with a colleague. “If you don’t present information in a mindful way…people just become more hostile,” Koretz says. She suggests framing your thoughts as “being curious, rather than assuming you know the answer.” Using the term “I wonder if” can also help take the edge off.

Don’t Make Assumptions. That colleague who never volunteers to do anything outside of his core responsibilities? Don’t assume he’s just a difficult person to work with. “It might actually be that he’s a very anxious person and that’s the way that he manages anxiety—by having structure in his life,” Koretz says. The bottom line? Give people the benefit of the doubt before you write them off.

Be a Better Friend

Listen Up. We’re all dealing with personal mini dramas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re talking too much about yourself, and not giving your pal the attention they deserve. “Being physically and mentally present is the best gift you can give your friend,” Burns says. That means refraining from checking texts while you’re at dinner, too.

Create a Yearly Tradition. “Our friends are the family we choose,” Burns says, “so it’s important to carve out time, especially during the busy holiday season, to recognize the role they play in our lives.” Sometimes an activity as simple as getting a mani-pedi together is all that’s needed to create “a sense of ritual and a shared experience to look forward to.”

Say It with Ink. Thinking about sending your season’s greetings electronically? Think again. “Getting snail mail is fun, and it feels even more special than a text or email,” Burns says. Your closest friends, especially, will enjoy a personal card that “expresses appreciation for them, a specific way they’ve showed up for you, or something they did to make you feel loved or special.” —Brittany Jasnoff

Don’t Be a Scrooge

Boston service pros spill the beans on what’s naughty and what’s nice when it comes to holiday tipping.


Expected Minimum: One day of services ($18–$30)
Average: One week of services ($100–$150)
Most Generous: Three weeks of services ($450)
Overheard: “We don’t have much work during Christmas week, so the team depends on tips to make up for lost wages. Anything is greatly appreciated, since some people don’t tip anything at all.”


Expected Minimum: $10 to $20 on top of the usual tip
Average: $115 (full cost of the client’s service)
Most Generous: $400
Overheard: “I do have clients who realize I work really long days during the holidays and are kind enough to bring me things like coffee or something to eat, or even wine for when I get home. But people have definitely given me obvious regifts—I once had someone give me a gift card to Chuck E. Cheese.”


Expected Minimum: Nothing
Average: $15–$20 gift card
Most Generous: 90-minute massage gift card
Overheard: “The most creative tip: a very expensive push-up bra! The woman and I had a running joke about our small boobs, though, so it was actually very thoughtful.”


Expected Minimum: $20
Average: $70
Most Generous: $200
Overheard: “One thing I find to be a pattern is that the clients who are home more and know the team better are the ones who tip a bit more, since we create a closer relationship with them.” —Kara Baskin

Read more about how to be a better Bostonian this holiday season