The Christmas tree is lit, carols are playing softly in the background and the fire is warm. Everything about the night is perfect—until your little one decides to change things! As quick as it came, the faint crackling and peaceful voices are replaced with a loud shriek and fit of crying. Welcome, sweet parent, to your child’s first holiday temper tantrum! The truth is, despite your best efforts, these episodes will happen from time to time. Instead of panicking or getting stressed, we’ll help you learn how to make them as short as possible.
1. Understand the Basic Reasons Behind Temper Tantrums—The first step is to know why tantrums occur. Don’t blame yourself for them because they’re a normal part of child development. Although age may vary, kids who are typically between the ages of 1 and 3 may whine, scream or kick to express that they are frustrated. These episodes happen because the child is hungry, bored or tired, which are the same reasons why we often witness crying in an infant. They may also occur because the little negotiator can’t get what they want. Whether you’re witnessing a mini power struggle or an emotional response to the need for a nap, find comfort in the fact that there are plenty of things you can do to get a better handle on them.
2. Know Why They Happen at Christmas Time—Christmas is a stimulating time of year for everyone. Think about how you feel after a day of shopping for gifts or after a long family party. You’re usually exhausted and perhaps a little edgy, right? The same goes for a baby or toddler. The sights, sounds and visitors they encounter during the holiday season can be more than they can handle. Sleepiness, crankiness and the desire to gain control over the environment are common. Some kids simply need a break from loud rooms or doting relatives, while others are seeking attention that they perceive is going to other people.
3. Anticipate Their Needs—Sometimes, you can prevent tantrums from happening by helping your child avoid their triggers. For instance, if you spent a few hours in the car to get to grandma’s house, make sure your child is fed as soon as you all get in. If they haven’t slept all day, make some time for a nap before you go to your friend’s holiday party. They may get bored if you’re going to an all-adult celebration, so bring plenty of toys with you or consider opening a small gift early.
4. Be the One Who Stays Calm—No matter how frustrating a temper tantrum can be, you must keep your cool. Otherwise, no one is going to calm down. In addition to making the situation worse, you will model poor behavior—and trust us, your child will pay you back in the future. If you become embarrassed during a party or family dinner, remember that no one who has kids is witnessing anything out of the ordinary. Take a deep breath and use one of the following strategies for mellowing out your kid.
5. Provide Soothing Comfort—Many kids who have tantrums respond well to soothing. Stroke them while talking in a soft voice or try singing to them. As they begin to relax, ask them what is wrong. If they provide you with an answer, like they want their pacifier or are hungry, you will probably fix the problem by giving it to them. Praise your child for communicating and ending their tantrum. Practicing positive reinforcement goes a long way with kids.
6. Embrace the Power of Distraction—Some kids will simply need a little bit of attention and something shiny to end their crying spell. When they begin to have a fit, pivot quickly by showing them grandpa’s toy train set or picking them up and taking them to look at the ornaments on the Christmas tree. You can also try going outside to get a breath of fresh air or moving into another room, like a bedroom or the kitchen.
7. Consider Ignoring the Outburst—If you’re out with your family in public or your in-laws spent tons of money on a hotel for the holidays, you may be able to avoid a bigger scene by offering less attention. This tactic is especially effective for children who are trying to gain control over a situation. Whether your son is wailing about the taste of cookies or your daughter isn’t finding amusement in their stuffed animal, try continuing your conversation over their fussing or turning your back for a minute. They may soon realize their strategy isn’t working and decide it’s best to be good.
8. Decide When It’s Time to Head Home—Despite your wishes to stay at an event or spend quality time with family, there are some instances when it’s best to head home. These include times when your child is extremely tired, won’t calm down or when you’re not able to cool off, either. In some cases, it’s better to pick your battles and find comfort in the fact that you did attend, at least for a little while.
Keeping Tantrums from Ruining the Holidays
While temper tantrums can take some of the fun out of the holidays, find confidence in the fact that you know your child best. By avoiding hunger meltdowns, making sure they get enough sleep and knowing when to give in or not give in to a request, you can diffuse the situation and teach your little one a bit about negotiating. In many cases, these fits end as quickly as they began. Remember to pack your patience and are sure you are able to do a great job navigating unforeseen outbursts without losing your sanity.