How to Avoid Toddler Holiday Meltdowns

If you have a toddler, you might imagine spending the holidays with her sounds pretty great. You can see your little one opening his own gifts for the first time, taking a frame-worthy photo on Santa’s lap, and maybe even helping you make cookies! Yes, it all sounds swell except for one thing: Toddlers and the holidays don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and chocolate. If you’re not careful, the hectic holidays can cause your child to have one tantrum after the next—including one for the ages in front of your judgmental Aunt Sally. Thankfully, there are things you can do to limit the chances of your toddler having a merry meltdown (or five), and maybe even help you enjoy a holiday season like the one you’re imagining. Take these tips from Mike and Heather Spohr, co-authors of The Toddler Survival Guide:

1. Try to stay on schedule

Keeping your toddler on a timetable during the holidays is a huge challenge what with the parties, constant visitors, and trips to jam-packed stores, but it’s important to try. If you don’t, he will likely melt down during midnight mass, or at some other incredibly inopportune time. The trick is to prepare in advance and be willing to adapt. If you know you’ll be fighting crowds at the mall during your toddler’s usual lunchtime, bring along a snack that will appease your hangry kiddo. Scheduling long drives during your child’s regular nap time is another easy fix. The more normal you can keep things, the more likely your toddler will be to keep it together.

2. Keep an eye on the sugar

Your toddler is going to want to eat her weight ten times over in candy canes, cookies, and hot chocolate, but don’t let him unless you want to see an epic sugar crash (spoiler alert: you don’t). Let her indulge in the tastes of the season in toddler-sized quantities, but otherwise keep him on the usual healthy (okay, healthy-ish) diet. That will keep your toddler from getting wired (and leave more cookies and homemade fudge for you. Score!)

3. Beware of the man in red 

Many toddlers are terrified of Santa Claus. They don’t care that he’s a magical man who brings toys; all they know is he’s a giant man with a giant beard who says “Ho, ho, ho” a little too loudly. If your kiddo freaks at the sight of Saint Nick, try giving Santa a hug to demonstrate that he is friendly and no one to fear. The odds of this working are very low, but it’s worth a shot. Most importantly, if your kid seems wary of Santa, don’t force an interaction. You’ll regret it if you do.

4. Avoid overstimulation

Think about your local mall around the holidays: Christmas trees and holly everywhere, flashing lights, and carols blaring over the speakers. It’s a lot to take in for an adult, let alone a toddler. Do your best to keep high-stimulation outings short, and don’t plan more than one a day unless you’re cool with pushing a screaming child through the crowds.

5. Don’t push the presents

Toddlers are so easy to spoil at the holidays. Even if you somehow manage to not go overboard, the grandparents most definitely will. But if you want to avoid meltdowns, let your little one open presents at her own pace. If he wants to rip through all the presents at lightning speed, that’s fine. If she opens one present and wants to play with it immediately, let her. The holidays are supposed to be fun, and there’s no rule that says presents have to be unwrapped by a certain time, no matter what your Aunt Sally might tell you.


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