The holidays can be the most magical time of year—but let's be honest, with a toddler, the tantrums could outnumber the presents under the tree! If you have a willful, impulsive tot (in other words, if you have a normal toddler) it can also be very trying. Here are five meltdown triggers…plus five tried-and-true tips for how to deal with toddler tantrums to reduce Hanukkah Horrors or Christmas Crises!

Tantrum Trigger #1: The Giant Chocolate Santa

They point at a giant chocolate Santa and start screaming, "I waaant it!"

Tantrum Solution: Speak in Toddler-ese + Use the Fast Food Rule

When your 2-year-old melts down in aisle three at the grocery store, reasoning with them using a calming voice and explanation is often a bust. Their frustration turns off the brain's language center making it very hard to listen.

Instead, try switching to Todder-ese, which consists of short phrases and lots of repetition. First, acknowledge your child's feelings (with a sincere look on your face): Point to the Santa and say, "Candy! Candy! Now….now! You want it NOW!" Repeat this three to four times, so they see you really get it. At least 50% of the time they'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 one or two when we get home? I think they have sprinkles on them, too! Right?"

Tantrum Trigger #2: The Fancy Outfit

Your child refuses to wear the fancy holiday outfit Grandma gave them.

Tantrum 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 sweater is so pretty! I'm gonna wear it. It goes on my head, right?" Then put it on like a hat. Then, when they try to correct you, say, “No, I know how, I’m super smart!” Then, hang it on your ear—you get the picture. Within seconds, they’ll be laughing and showing you the right way to wear it.

Tantrum Trigger #3: The Presents

It's time to open gifts, and your tot gets very grabby…with other kids' toys.

Tantrum Solution: Gossip

We all like to overhear people saying nice things about us…and that’s what “gossip” is all about!

Before the struggles and temper tantrums start, plant a seed of good behavior in your child's mind. Let them overhear you loudly whispering praise (to Daddy, the cat, even their favorite stuffed animal) about some of the good things they did earlier. You can even whisper a few things you hope they will do later.

The trick is to make it seem like a secret! Cup your hand and whisper just loud enough for them 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.

Tantrum Trigger #4: The Big Dinner

Your child saves up their worst behavior…for the moment the family dinner is served!

Tantrum Solution: Time-Ins

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 they drew it…all by themself! (That’s another little “gossip” opportunity!)

Also, have your 10-year-old niece or nephew 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!

Tantrum Trigger #5: The Holiday Party

All the sugary sweets and rambunctious children can whip them into a frenzy!

Tantrum 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 buddy 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 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.

More Toddler Tips:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.