Holiday Tears and Tantrums

During the holiday season, watch for signs of stress in your children.  It can be a time of too little sleep and quiet moments and too much excitement, activity, and food. Is it any wonder the tears and tantrums come easily? No, I’m not talking about you – I’m thinking about the children. So here are five things I’ve found that children need during the holidays.

Children need consistency. Keep bedtime rituals like stories and games. Spend time cuddling on the couch. Extra hugs are in order. If you are away from home during the holidays, pack a special blankie, pillow, or stuffed toy that is a visible reminder of sameness. Children may have trouble sleeping after a big day so having a little gift or treat can help ease them into bedtime.

Children like to be part of what is happening. The “getting to help” is more important than the end product. Remind yourself everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  Look for things the children can do and don’t get uptight about messy packages or frosting on everything but the cookies.

Children want to know what is going on. Tell them where the family is going, who will be there, what will happen.  Take time to talk with them about the holiday rituals your family observes and why these are special to your family.

Children need their space. Too many people can result in overstimulation. That’s when the tears and tantrums start in. The children may not be used to having lots of extra people around or sharing their bedroom with three cousins. Try involving the children in smaller groups of friends or relatives.

Children need some quiet time. Alternate quiet activities with active ones. You can tell when the children are getting too excited, bored, or tired. Then it is time for a story, nap, or just a few minutes together with you in another room.

Now that I read back through what the children need, I’m thinking maybe it does apply to us adults too! How do you help your children enjoy the holidays in a nonstressful way?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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5 thoughts on “Holiday Tears and Tantrums

  1. This is a helpful post. Many times we are caught up in our own stress and don’t realize that our children go through stress also. They have signs of stress that go unnoticed. Kids need advice just as well. They need routine and consistency that you are talking about. Good job.

  2. In my home we have a tradition of setting up a card table during the hectic holidays with a puzzle. I have found this inexpensive activity allows us the opportunity to work on something together as time is available to us individually – and it seems to work for a span of age ranges. We take such delight in seeing how far we come each day on this group project. It can also be nice for a youngster (or a grown-up for that matter!) at a holiday gathering that is tired of the adult conversation, but wants something else to do without seeming rude by pulling out a book or listening to an Ipod. A puzzle allows family members the opportunity to join in and be a part of the activity when convenient or to step back from the activity when needed. Having this small escape helps lower our stress levels during this busy time of year!

  3. yes, I agree adults need some of the same things kids do (e.g., alone time, know what is going on, etc.). Funny, as adults, how we forget that we have basic human needs as well that help us function and lessen our daily stress.

  4. We used to always have puzzles going too. It is a great intergenerational activity and people just can’t resist stopping and finding a piece.

  5. We sometimes forget just how similar we (adults and children) really are…in some regards. We need things. We have stress. We feel joy and sadness. What sets us apart is know when and how to express it all. Oh, and yeah, we had the game table at our house, too.

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