How to Survive the Holidays with Your Toddler
The holidays can be the most magical time of year—but let's be honest, if you have a willful, impulsive tot (in other words, if you have a normal toddler) it can also be very trying. Here are 5 tantrum triggers…plus 5 tried-and-true tips to reduce Hanukkah Horrors or Christmas Crises!
Trigger #1: The Giant Chocolate Santa
He points at a giant chocolate Santa and starts screaming, "I waaant it!"
Solution: Speak in Toddler-ese + Use the Fast Food Rule
When your 2-year-old melts down in aisle 3 at the grocery store, reasoning with him using a calming voice and explanation is often a bust. His frustration turns off the brain's language center making it very hard to listen.
Try switching to short phrases and lots of repetition. First, acknowledge feelings (with a sincere look on your face): Pointing to the Santa say, "Candy! Candy! Now….now! You want it NOW!" Repeat this 3-4 times, so he sees you really get it. At least 50% of the time he'll calm down and then immediately offer a distraction, solution or compromise. "I know, I know you want it, sweetie! But, at home we have cookies…do you want 1 or 2 when we get home? I think they have sprinkles on them, too! Right?"
Trigger #2: The Fancy Dress
Your daughter refuses to wear the fancy holiday dress Grandma gave her.
Solution: Play the Boob
We all like to feel smart and little kids especially love when adults act a little dumb: Not only does it get a giggle, it also makes them feel clever and strong…compared to their inept parents. Say, "This dress is so pretty! I'm gonna wear it. It goes on my head, right?" Then put it on like a hat. Then, when she tries to correct you, say, “No, I know how, I’m super smart!” Then, hang it on your ear—you get the picture. Within seconds, she'll be laughing and showing you the right way to wear it.
Trigger #3: The Presents
It's time to open gifts, and your tot gets very grabby…with other kids' toys.
We all like to overhear people saying nice things about us…and that’s what “gossip” is all about!
Before the struggles start, plant a seed of good behavior in your child's mind. Let her overhear you loudly whispering praise (to Daddy, the cat, even her favorite stuffed animal) about some of the good things she did earlier. You can even whisper a few things you hope she will do later.
The trick is to make it seem like a secret! Cup your hand and whisper just loud enough for her to hear: "Blue Bunny, did you know that Molly is really good, good, good at sharing? She takes turns playing when cousin Fiona visits." If Molly says, "I heard that!" You can just say, "Oh, it's nothing, Bunny and I are just having a chat." A little gossip before the event—and then afterward as a reward—boosts the good behavior you want to see.
Trigger #4: The Big Dinner
Your child saves up his worst behavior…for the moment the family dinner is served!
If you know you're going to be rushing around the kitchen, greeting guests and listening to your great-aunt's story about her gall bladder all night, give your child some special alone time earlier in the afternoon. Read a story, cuddle for a while or color a picture to use as a centerpiece (and make sure to brag to everyone that he drew it…all by himself! (that’s another little “gossip” opportunity!)
Also, have your 10-year-old niece (or babysitter) give a few 5-minute bits of play—peppered throughout the dinner—to help your tot feel cared about. Time-out is when you deprive a child of your attention. These little “time-ins”—tiny bits of extra attention—help boost cooperation and confidence...and even reduce the need for time-outs!
Trigger #5: The Holiday Party
All the sugary sweets and rambunctious children can whip him into a frenzy!
Solution: Role Playing
Around 2, tots love to pretend to be someone else during play. Take advantage of this to act out how you'd like your little guy to behave. The story doesn't have to be Oscar-worthy, but it should have a beginning and end, and a clear message: "Batman is going to a party at T-Rex's house. 'Hello T-Rex, my name is Batman!' DO you think Batman will be mean or nice to T-Rex? Will he share his toys? What should Batman say to T-Rex?” Your child can act out one of the characters or simply enjoy the show.
By the time January rolls around, the cookies will all be eaten, and the Christmas stockings and menorahs stowed away. But learning to help your tot stay balanced and happy…that's a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year.