Managing meltdowns this holiday season

Use these strategies to reduce frustration and tears with your child this holiday season.

Along with visits from family, gifts, celebrations, meals and special memories, the holiday season can often become very overwhelming to children and adults alike. While adults are better able to verbalize their feelings of stress, children often cannot and end up throwing tantrums, usually at the most inopportune times. Teaching kids how to cope with feeling frustrated can help reduce tantrums and empower children to feel like they can communicate their needs.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following strategies for a happier holiday season with your children.

It’s OK to say no. Many families feel pressure to attend countless family, friend and work gatherings. These busy days and long nights can become quite overwhelming for small children who need their rest. Think carefully about what you say yes to, and be sure your children are getting enough rest and down time. When children are pushed to their limits, we are setting them up for a tough night.

Remember the routine. Try to stick to your family routines as much as possible. Be sure your children are getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods and have unscheduled time to relax and play. Routines provide children a sense of comfort and security in being able to predict what comes next.

Teach children how to manage their emotions. Oftentimes, parents will say they just want their children to be happy, but the reality is that children need to experience a wide range of emotions appropriately. They will feel mad, sad, tired and frustrated, and we want them to experience these things without losing their temper. Some strategies to teach children to manage their emotions include:

  • Name it to tame it. Teach children the words for their feelings. Help them see the connection between how they’re feeling and their behavior. Talk and read books about emotions, and help children build a vocabulary for their emotions.
  • Teach calming activities. Deep breaths, blowing bubbles, sensory play, finger-painting, calming jars, coloring and other activities can help children find some physical relief to their pent up frustrations. Support children in figuring out what helps them calm down. Remember that not all children will use the same strategies.

Keep your child’s temperament in mind. It can be frustrating that one child can handle the busy day, while another is in tears before dinner. Children have individual needs. Some children can handle very busy days, where others need downtime to rest and recharge. Pay attention to your children’s individual temperaments and support them in finding what they need to make it through long holiday celebrations.

Plan ahead to support your child. Sometimes, especially during the holidays, we can’t avoid long days. Pack items to help your child stay occupied, and support them should they need help calming down. Favorite toys, a blanket or lovey, coloring books and crayons, calming music and headphones, a stress ball, play dough or a pinwheel or bubbles to encourage deep breathing are all great options.

During the holidays, take the time to be extra patient and kind with your children. Instead of thinking of young children as being naughty, reframe our thoughts on tantrums and see that they are learning to handle big emotions. We can support them in working through their stress and frustrations by being supportive and not overwhelming them with busy holiday schedules.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 Impact Report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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