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Avoiding a Holiday Temper Tantrum

Five triggers that could break your silent nights (and how to sidestep them)


Sharon Dominick Photography

Even preschoolers with the sweetest dispositions often have trouble adjusting during the holidays.

Sharon Dominick Photography

If you think about it, it's almost a Christmas miracle if kids don't throw a temper tantrum during the holiday season. With lots of new faces, missed bedtimes, presents and everything else the holiday season offers, it's easy for young children to lose their pleasant dispositions and get caught up in the holiday madness.

However, a temper tantrum doesn't have to be a required guest at your holiday soirees. With a little advanced thinking and planning and an extra helping of patience for you and your little ones, you can avoid that lump of coal in your preschooler's stocking.

Here are the top holiday temper tantrum triggers and how to tame them:

  1. Shopping Scene The mall was never your preschooler's favorite place, add crowds, long hours and lots of stuff to buy and you've got a temper tantrum perfect storm brewing. The obvious answer to to try to leave your little one at home with someone like a relative or babysitter, but that's not always possible. If taking your child to the store is an unavoidable proposition, there are ways to get through it with your sanity intact. First off, try to make the trip as short as possible, planning which stores you want to hit and what you want to purchase there. Try to schedule your excursion at a "good" time -- don't go at a time when your little one normally naps or eats or if it is close to bedtime. And pack some supplies -- snacks and toys to keep them entertained while you shop.
  2. Mealtime Menace One of the highlights of your holiday season might be your mother's famous Christmas gelatin salad, but for your preschooler, eating unfamiliar foods is anything but a jolly good time. You can certainly try to encourage her to try new foods, but in this case, when emotions are running high, it might be best to bring out some tried-and-true staples that she will eat without complaint. Do remind her about using good table manners, but remember that it is very hard for preschoolers to sit still at a table for any length of time, especially if there is a pile of new toys waiting for them. So while you should make sure your little one behaves appropriately, it's also important to make sure that your expectations are realistic.
  3. "Where's My Present?", "Mine!", "I Don't Like It!" or One of a Thousand Variations on that Theme During the month of December, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to want to give your preschooler a gift. And that's great. Fabulous, even. But if gift getting becomes a regular occurrence, those times when someone doesn't have a present could get ugly. Or what if your preschooler is given a gift but she doesn't like it? We all do our best to raise kids that are kind and grateful, but sometimes it is easy for even the nicest of kids to get the gimmes or the ungratefuls. So how do you cope? Taking preventive action ahead of time is a good idea. Talk to your child about how it is important to say thank you for every gift they are given, even if it is something they don't like. And explain how not every person is going to give them a gift -- that the most wonderful thing about the holiday season is spending time with friends and family and people we love.
  4. Family Fright Fest OK, be honest. Aren't you a little scared of your Aunt Roberta too, with her big hair, strong perfume and affinity for squeezing cheeks? Unless your preschooler sees the extended family all the time, expect some hesitation at first (and possibly the entire visit). It can be disappointing when a child pulls away from a relative who adores them so much, but it's also normal and a behavior that no one should take personally. To get your child used to all these new faces, ahead of time, talk about who is coming and their relationship to them ("Do you remember Uncle Frank? We went to his farm last year and played with the ducks!"). When guests arrive, introduce each one. You can also ask family members to approach your little one slowly and quietly, which could make the meeting go more smoothly.
  5. Sorry Santa All kids love Santa Claus right? He's jolly and wears a big red suit and he brings lots of presents! What's not to absolutely adore about the guy? While some preschoolers will happily jump into Santa's lap at the sound of the first "Ho!," others are understandably more cautious. Not only is Santa someone your child doesn't know, he has a lot going on around him. A big holiday display. Helper elves. A big, booming voice. The flashes from the camera. A hat, mustache and beard. Not to mention all the other kids around him who are undoubtedly reacting to him in some way shape or form. Your best bet to convince your little one that sitting with Santa is a good thing is first to explain what you'd like him to do ("You can sit in Santa's lap or stand next to him and talk about what you want for Christmas and then I'm going to take your picture."). You might be tempted to balk if there is a long line, but a wait to see Santa is actually a great opportunity for your child to check out exactly what is going on and what is expected of him. If your little one starts to panic or cry before you reach your destination, it might be best to try again at another time. If she starts to cry while sitting with Santa, take a quick photo and then rescue her.
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