Dealing with Holiday Tantrums
Holidays are super fun times to be with your family and are filled with sugar, anticipation, and excitement! They
are also times of disorganized schedules, frustrating shopping excursions at malls with lots of people, tons of
events, and hours of sitting at tables with extended family. All of these things, even the good ones, can be hard on
your kids, causing them to meltdown since they are not yet capable of handling their emotions in a more
productive way. (And who can blame them? It’s hard enough to control our own emotions when someone steals
our parking space!) So it’s almost inevitable that your kid will have a holiday tantrum.
There are a few things you can do to prevent these holiday tantrums:
1. Keep your kids well-fed, well-slept, and stick to a schedule as much as possible.
Kids are much more likely to go into an emotional tailspin if they are hungry or tired. Schedules also keep them
feeling safe and calm – they like to know what’s coming next. Otherwise, who knows how long you’re going to talk
to Aunt Betty and they are going to have to stay bored at their Aunt’s house forever! Help your kids feel better able
to handle these unusual days by keeping as much of a normal schedule as possible and by giving your kids the
heads up about what’s going on. Show your kid the plans for vacation on a calendar. And each evening or morning,
go through exactly the plans for that day with your kid so he knows what to expect.
2. Manage the number of events you go to and new family members your child interacts with.
One big event per day may be the max for you kid. Kids need downtime. Otherwise, they’ll get overstimulated and
will be more likely to throw that dreaded tantrum. It’s okay to not go to everything. Also, seeing lots of people all at once that your child does not see regularly can be intimidating even for your teen.
Help ease those anxieties by looking at pictures of who is going to be at the gathering ahead of time with your
child. Remind your child what fun she had the last time with her cousins. This preparation will make it a little less
scary to see everyone again.
3. Review expected behavior.
Remind your child what their “best behavior” looks like. Go through a few scenarios with them. Like, “What will
you do if you get a present that you don’t like?” and “What will you do if you are done eating, but most people are
still eating and talking?”
4. Remember to give your kid attention.
You are incredibly busy this season. So when you’re shopping and you’ve taken your kid with you and you just
want to finish as quickly as possible, you may be rushing so much that your child does not get much attention. Kids
crave their parents’ attention. So make sure that you reserve time to sit and eat lunch together or grab a hot
chocolate and talk to your child while you are running around.
5. Make sure your kid gets to do what he wants to do.
Kids have plans for the holidays too! They want to stay up late, sleep late, play video games, watch movies… Ask
them what they would like to do so you can make sure they have time for what is important to them too.
And then, if (when?) that tantrum happens, here are a couple things you can do:
1. Avoid saying “Use your words”.
However well-intentioned, saying “Use your words” is just about the equivalent to saying “Calm down” to
someone, which just about always has the opposite effect. When a child is throwing a tantrum, they literally
cannot express themselves. They need help calming down first (through ___________, not actually saying “Calm
down”) and then they can start to explain their feelings and the problem to you once their emotions are back in
2. Let them be upset and share their feelings.
Just maybe away from the family and everyone else. Sit with them. Make sure they don’t hurt anyone or anything.
And be there for them so that when they’ve let it all out, you are there to talk through what happened with them.
During the explosion, they aren’t capable of thinking rationally, so logical appeals won’t help. Appeals to their
emotions will be more helpful, “I see that you are really upset. I’m so sorry. I understand it can be tough to be
around so many people for so long.” If you’ve guessed wrong, they’ll eventually let you know what the real
Remember to keep calm yourself. Your children feed off of your emotions and will mirror your behavior. So if the
holidays are stressing you out, they are more likely to stress your kids out too. So if you notice yourself getting
wound up, take some time for yourself and remove some things from your to-do list. Your holiday doesn’t need to
be Instagram-worthy. Your kids would rather have a happy you.
——Related Article: Big Reactions to Little Things- Handling Meltdowns and Temper Tantrums————–
About Katherine Firestone
Katherine had a hard time in school because she suffered from undiagnosed ADHD till her junior year of high
school. What made her successful during this time was the support system she had around her. After college, she
worked as a teacher, and saw that parents wanted to help their kids at home, but didn’t know what to do. She
started the Fireborn Institute to give parents ideas on how to help because success at school is enhanced at home.
She is also the host of The Happy Student, a podcast for parents on promoting happy academic and social lives.
Featured Photo by Jordan Whitt