Holidays are full of emotions! Hear from Felice St. John how to help your little person navigate.
The holiday season is in full swing and the same may be true of our emotions and the emotions of our littles. Yes, there is much excitement, joy, awe, wonder and fun during this time of year, but there is also the increased potential for exhaustion, overwhelm, confusion, frustration and sadness. It could be some late nights, the increase of activity, lack of routine, travel, increased amounts of sugar or a perfect storm of all of these things that cause our children to meltdown.
To start, let’s remember that we are not born with emotional regulation skills. Our toddler’s brains are still developing, and they are taking their emotional cues from us. When we are afraid, angry or sad, they will likely feel those emotions from us. When we are calm and in control, they will pick up on that as well.
So what can we do to decrease the chances for tantrums and meltdowns during the holidays and really anytime?
Model: Remember to do what you can to take care of you. Fill your own cup, so you can fill theirs. When you are feeling tired, tell your little one, “Mommy feels tired, I am going to rest on the couch for 10 minutes. Will you snuggle with me?” or “Wow, this is a fun holiday party, but I am feeling a little overwhelmed. Let’s step outside together and take a few deep breaths and then find a healthy snack to share.” By modeling and naming your emotions, your child may take your lead and begin to recognize those feelings in herself as well. Even if you cannot get your child to rest or step outside, you’ve taken a few minutes to care for yourself which will keep you steady and better able to help her navigate big emotions next time they come.
Know Your Child: You are the expert on your child. You know his temperament and triggers, which may be different than your own. Anticipate and prepare for events, activities or even people that may overwhelm your child. For example, have a healthy lunch before going to the cookie party to avoid a sugar crash; plan for some quiet time in the midst of visiting relatives where you and your child can sit quietly and read together; choose only one holiday event or activity during the weekend so that your child is not overwhelmed and can enjoy the event.
Also, keep in mind that just because you love all of the events and celebrations, your child may not and vice versa. Try to find a reasonable balance so everyone can enjoy the festivities!
Communicate Expectations: Little ones do not have a concept of time like we do. They do not have a clear idea of what’s coming up day-to-day like we do, and while some kids can go with the flow of the changing schedule, some have more trouble being out of routine and a lot of different people. Let your child know what’s coming with a day or two’s notice and be as clear as possible. Ask how they feel about it, set expectations and give choices whenever possible. It may look like this:
“Today we are going to the holiday festival. There will be a lot of people and games. How are you feeling about that?” (Child says they feel good.) “I feel good too and excited. We will plan to pick four fun activities, and then we will come home and play your new game together. Does that sound fun?” (Setting expectations and giving them something to look forward to after the event will help with the transition back home).
“Tomorrow morning we are going to Aunt Betty’s house. She is the one who has a small dog and lives in the house with the green door. I remember last year that she wanted to give you a big hug, but you felt nervous about that. I am curious how you would like to greet her this year? You can choose to give her a hug, a high five, a wave or we could hug her together. What do you choose? (Child chooses a high five.) “Thank you for making a choice that feels good for you. I love high fives too, and I will be sure to let Aunt Betty know that we are excited to greet her with a high five!”
“When your cousins come to visit, we will be sharing our toys with them. If there are any toys that may be hard for you to share, you can put them in this basket, and we can keep them in a special place. Do you want to put anything in the basket?” (Child picks two toys.) “OK, I will keep them in the basket for you. Thanks for being such a great sharer with your other toys. You are so kind, and you are going to have so much fun with your cousins!”
Hopefully these tips will help you stay ahead of holiday meltdowns, but if you find yourself in the middle of a tantrum with your little one this season, know you’re not alone, take some deep breaths and stay as calm as possible to help re-regulate your child and to let them know that they are safe even in the swirling of their big emotions. Take good care of you, so you can take good care of them.