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3 Ways to Get Out of Holiday Meltdowns

Photograph by Twenty20

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Until your toddler throws a massive tantrum while waiting to have his picture taken with Santa. It's a time we feel truly blessed! Except at the dinner table, surrounded by family members on a mission to give thanks, and our youngest is in a full-on meltdown.

Holiday time is supposed to be merry and bright, but for little ones it can be exhausting and just a little bit overwhelming.

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The holiday season is when we push kids beyond their limits. From Thanksgiving through New Years, parents everywhere keep kids up late, run from event to event and forget about the importance of relaxing and enjoying time together. The end result is always the same: Children of all ages are tired, prone to meltdowns and, believe it or not, get sick.

Yes, the stress of the holiday hustle and bustle actually leads to increased colds among little ones.

"It is very easy this time of year to push our children beyond their 'best before' time," Andrea Nair, Parent Educator and creator of the Taming Tantrums app, says.

Nair identifies two major triggers of tantrums this time of year. "Many holiday tantrums revolve around two things," Nair says. "Being in a compromised state (tired, hungry or over-stimulated) and being overwhelmed with emotions."

The holiday season is busy and parents tend to experience higher levels of stress as they attempt to work through the never-ending to-do list and get to the holiday show on time.

Take a breath, weary parents: this parenting problem has a solution. Follow a few of these steps to decrease major meltdowns this holiday season:

1. Get back to basics

Tantrums can be traced back to what Nair refers to as a "compromised state," what I like to think of as "the basics." Skip the long lines for Santa, late parties and town tree-lighting when your kids are toddlers—particularly if they're easily over-stimulated. They will get more enjoyment out of these holiday traditions as they grow, but for now cookie-baking and a few crafts at home hold more meaning.

Be sure to prioritize these four things throughout the holiday season:

  • Sleep: Little ones need 11-14 hours of total sleep.
  • Play: Unstructured play is the key to happiness for kids.
  • Eat: Holiday treats are great, but be sure to focus on balance.
  • Downtime: We all need time to rest and recharge.

Tantrum tamer tip: Don't stress during a tantrum. Remain calm when your child is upset and try to avoid demanding a reason for the meltdown. "Instead of asking our children what they need (they are likely to be too upset to convey that)," Nair says, "take a moment to collect your thoughts and ask yourself, 'What is it that my child needs?'" It's never too late to reevaluate and make a new plan.

Everything seems exciting during the holiday season. It's tempting to try to do it all in an effort to create lasting holiday memories. But the truth is that it doesn't take much to create a memory

2. Focus on empathy

Whether or not you feel like you're pushing your kid, it's important to remember that the holiday season can be an emotional roller coaster for little ones. The anticipation begins early and stretches for a solid month before the holiday actually arrives. That's a lot of anticipation for young children, who aren't really designed to wait.

Talk about feelings with your kids. We have a tendency to gloss over the hard stuff with the hope that focusing on the positive will keep our kids happy. The truth is that happy kids are the kids who know how to work through the overwhelming feelings or negative emotions that can naturally occur on any given day.

Tantrum tamer tip: While it's tempting to hand out consequences when meltdowns occur mid-party, it's best to empathize with kids in the heat of the moment. "Offer and hug and say something like, 'I see you are mad and I understand'", says Nair. Sometimes acknowledging their feelings is the best way to help kids calm down in the moment.

3. Slow down

"I have found it helpful to adopt this little mantra at holiday time: Take on only what you can take care of," suggests Nair. Wise words from a mom who has seen her fair share of tantrums, indeed.

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Everything seems exciting during the holiday season. It's tempting to try to do it all in an effort to create lasting holiday memories. But the truth is that it doesn't take much to create a memory. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve baking cookies, a book by the fireplace and decorating the tree that never seemed to stand up straight. We don't need to attend every function and join every event to create memories for our kids, we just need to spend time together.

Tantrum tamer tip: One of my favorite tantrum tamers comes straight from The Happy Kid Handbook—blowing up balloons. Coach your child through relaxation breathing (in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3) while your child envisions blowing up a beautiful balloon with any design they choose. After they breathe out, be sure to tie a string to the balloon and use one last deep breath to send that balloon off to find a loved one. Kids love the visualization and the relaxation breathing helps calm their bodies and minds.

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