How to Have a Happy Holiday Without the Toddler Tantrum

Little boy in gift box crying at Christmas.

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time to get moving: You’ll need to buy gifts, prepare dishes, arrange travel plans, decorate your home and choose the perfect outfits for you and your toddler to attend the big family holiday celebration.

All this commotion is a lot to wrap your head around – so just consider how overwhelming it may be for your little one. Whether this is your toddler’s first, second or third holiday gathering, it’s still new and exciting and perhaps a bit nerve-wracking, too. Throw in a skipped nap time and a few too many Christmas cookies and you have a recipe from an all-out temper tantrum.

Every parent has been there; the toddler is dressed in an adorable holiday outfit but her emotions don’t quite match the cheery look; the onlookers casting side-long glances at the whole show while they chat.

This situation is best avoided; here are a few tips on how to stop temper tantrums from adding stress to your holiday season:

Minimize overstimulation

One big reason the holiday season tends to bring about more tantrums than usual is the sheer amount of stimulation at every turn, A+ Solutions pointed out. Bright, blinking lights fill the streets, stores and probably your home, too. Large crowds feel scary for a tiny tot, and the noise that comes along with those large gatherings doesn’t help in making it feel more friendly.

Overstimulation during the holidays can lead to temper tantrums.Be sure to fit destressing time into your busy holiday schedule to minimize overwhelming situations for your toddler.

Encourage calmness by trying to space overwhelming situations apart, with breaks in between to settle down. This may mean not going on hours-long shopping sprees or limiting the number of holiday parties or events you bring your child to.

As an adult, it may not seem obvious which situations will be more overwhelming to your toddler. Pay close attention to her body language and the way she’s reacting to everything. If you sense a tantrum is near, take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and find a quieter space to relax in.

Pay attention to diet

Food is often the focal point of many holiday gatherings, featuring decadent roasts or hams, a plethora of sides, endless desserts, and candy literally hanging from trees in your own home. While you may be looking forward to it all, consider your toddler’s palate: Has he ever had ham prepared this way before? Is he familiar with your aunt’s famous green bean casserole?

Toddlers tend to be picky eaters, and new foods don’t always go over so well. Especially when your little one is already overwhelmed by everything going on, she may not be willing to have a taste of something new. Keep this in mind when preparing holiday foods. Even though it’s a good idea to introduce new foods to your toddler, timing is key, Dr. Sears pointed out. Experimenting with new tastes and textures during an already stressful situation may not work out well. Be sure to have one or two items you know she likes within reach. You may even include them in the dinner line-up.

With the sea of new foods to try, you can bet there’s one category your toddler will be drawn to more than the others: the plate of cookies. While the holidays are often a time of indulging in many sweets, it’s important to pay close attention to your toddler’s diet. One too many sugar cookies (or candy canes, pieces of pie or bowls of ice cream) can cause a sugar crash and lead to a temper tantrum.

Introduce your guests

If you’re hosting a holiday celebration, you’re probably frantically making sure every dish is ready, the decorations are up and the home is clean enough for your guests. Between the harried preparations, the ringing of the doorbell and the parade of unfamiliar faces entering what your toddler regards as the safest place he knows, hosting a holiday celebration might seem like a scary situation.

To make the influx of people into your home seem less alarming, take the time to introduce your toddler to each new house guest, Dr. Sears suggested. Explain how you know or are related to each guest.

The holidays are a time of celebration, sharing and caring. But for a young child, they can also be a time of overwhelming situations, noise and rooms full of strangers. Understanding how these elements can trigger a temper tantrum can help you avoid a holiday meltdown.