Holiday Meltdowns (Tips for avoiding holiday stress)


Riley & Liam enjoying some holiday magic

The holiday season is full of fun, excitement, and tradition.  It’s a time of decorations, baking, and thinking about others.  The anticipation seems to start a little bit earlier each year, regardless of your holiday, which means that the holiday season now runs from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.  That’s a long stretch of time.

Hidden among all of the fun and excitement are two potentially destructive hidden stressors:  Exhaustion and over-stimulation.

Holiday related meltdowns are to be expected, no matter the age of your kids.

It’s reasonable to assume that kids are talking about the holidays with friends at school, learning about various traditions in their classrooms, and talking about it at home.  A lot.  Tis the season of wish lists, after all.

You can’t even run to the local pharmacy to pick up a toothbrush without encountering toys, holiday candy, and decorations the second you walk in the door.  Just the other day Riley became fixated on a toy at Walgreens.  A toy that would most certainly be abandoned within minutes of getting it home.  But with the pretty bow on the box?  She just had to have it.  Until we walked out the door empty-handed, and then she immediately forgot that it even existed.

The point is that the holidays are everywhere.  It’s very difficult for kids to stay focused on gratitude and wait patiently for their holiday to arrive when they are bombarded with imagery and toys every which way they turn.  Who wouldn’t have a meltdown once in a while?

A meltdown (or temper tantrum) is simply a physical and emotional release of pent up stress, exhaustion, and overstimulation.  It’s perfectly healthy for kids to release their stress this way, even if it does earn you a few stern looks from passersby.  Fear not, parents; it’s all part of growing up.  But there are steps you can take to avoid excessive stress this holiday season.  Below are some tips to do just that:

1.    Let them sleep:  Kids need sleep.  Specifically, somewhere between 10-14 hours of daily sleep for the under six crowd, and 8-10 from 7 on up.  Resist the urge to keep your kids up late for holiday related parties and other special treats, and ensure that they get adequate rest.  Lack of sleep leads to stress, exhaustion, and illness.  Holidays aren’t much fun if you’re cranky, tired, and sick.

2.    Eat well:  Adults often reference over-eating during the holiday season.  If presented with unhealthy choices, kids will most certainly do the same.  Stick to your normal meal/snack schedule for your kids.  Provide light meals before parties to avoid over-indulgence on snacks and sugary treats.  Offer desserts as you normally would.  Set a good example and be mindful of what your children really need.

3.    Limit parties/activities:  Everyone loves a holiday party.  It’s the perfect time to catch up with old friends and let the kids run free.  Until the kids become over-stimulated, and then it’s just stressful.  Choose the parties that will truly be family friendly and limit the amount of time you spend there.  60-90 minutes of party time is more than enough for kids 6 and under.  Older children might hang in there a bit longer, but behavior shifts quickly when boredom sets in.  Keeping your kids at a party too long can be a set-up for poor choices.  Keep it short and sweet.

4.    Factor in downtime:  It can be tempting to sign your kids up for several “camps” the minute school lets out for a couple of weeks.  School vacations serve a purpose.  Your kids are working hard at school, be it preschool or high school.  Allow them some downtime to hang out in pajamas all day, build forts, and just be a family.  Kids need time to regroup and relax.  Downtime is the best gift you can give your child.

5.    Create traditions:  The holiday season should be about family, tradition, and giving.  Due to the constant bombardment of stuff everywhere, it often becomes about wanting.  Your children will remember the cookie baking, tree decorating, caroling, and stories/games by the fire.  Whether it’s Elf on the Shelf or a countdown calendar, start building traditions that aren’t about toys and stuff.  My kids had a great time choosing and decorating our tree, and are now looking forward to baking Christmas cookies.  They have their moments when confronted with cool new toys everywhere they go, but the minute they get home it’s all about family time.

6.    Don’t force the photos:  I know, I know…everyone wants the annual picture with Santa.  Here’s the thing:  Some kids are petrified to sit on a stranger’s lap and smile.  Can you blame them?  Let your child choose whether or not she’s ready to sit on Santa’s lap or just wants to wave.  And try not to force your kids to pose for big family pictures for long periods of time.  Chances are they will be fairly over-stimulated by the time they even reach the holiday party, asking them to sit still and smile is actually asking a lot.

7.    Appreciate the little things:  Instead of focusing on 8 nights of gifts or the upcoming visit from Santa, try to make note of the small wonders of the season.  Our favorite activity during this time is to take “night drives” to see the lights and decorations around the neighborhood.  Take time to point out the lights, enjoy the smell of fresh baked cookies, and sit by the tree or fireplace and just read together.  Cue your kids to find magic in small acts of kindness and the simple pleasure of appreciating a beautifully decorated home.

8.    Let it happen:  As I mentioned earlier, meltdowns happen this time of year.  In general, the first instinct is to find a way to stop the tantrum.  People cite distraction, bargains, and removal from the target as useful tools.  What they fail to realize is that these are simply Band-Aid strategies.  Children need to release their stress, and often a meltdown or tantrum is the best way to do so.  Let them cry, let them yell, let them let it out…and then help them regroup and figure out why they had so much pent up stress.  A meltdown can be a very good thing.  It gives your child a chance to get it all out and then start fresh.  It gives your child a second chance.

How do you avoid holiday meltdowns?


Relaxation Revisited (Tips for helping your kids relax)

The end of October marks the beginning of the very busiest time of the year.  Starting with Halloween and ending on New Year’s Day, children are in a near constant state of over-stimulation, excitement, celebrations, shifting emotions, and exhaustion.

It’s tiring, and it can lead to frequent meltdowns.

It helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve for teaching your kids how to relax when they become over-stimulated or overwhelmed.

Below are some tips to help you help your child relax:

1.    Know the signs:  Kids are always in forward motion and will continue along that path as long as their bodies allow.  Most young children do not know how to stop and assess how they are feeling (in fact, many adults don’t do this either).  Teach your child the signs of over-stimulation:  Rapid heartbeat, tightened muscles, inability to settle down, poor sleep, and feeling like they just can’t stop moving.  Children don’t always know when to say when, so we have to step in and help them slow down.  Teach them to recognize the signs so that they can ask for help.

2.    Exercise:  In a long season full of parties, planning, shopping, cooking, and crafting, children don’t always get adequate exercise.  Exercise is a great stress reducer.  For kids this means playing outside (or indoors in inclement weather, think scavenger hunts and obstacle courses), going to the park, or a fun class that involves movement for at least 45 minutes per day.  If you get their bodies moving while they are having fun, they will exhibit fewer symptoms of stress.

3.    Music:  Adults often reference listening to a favorite band to check out when the going gets tough, so it makes good sense that music helps children as well.  Riley sneaks off to her room and turns on her bedtime music when she becomes overwhelmed.  It’s not the style of music that matters, it’s that you play the music that means something to your child and helps him relax.  People like to reference classical music as a good strategy for relaxing babies and young children, but classical music can actually be a bit startling at times.  Ray LaMontagne turned our morning around just the other day.  It’s the music, not the lyrics, which calms them down.  Find what works for you.

4.    Take a break:  If your kids are experiencing frequent meltdowns, then it’s time to look at your daily schedule and find a way to factor in some downtime.  Whether it’s a nap or just some quiet playtime mid-day, children need downtime to rest and process the events of the morning.  Give them a break each day and allow them time to just be.  I often have parents tell me that once the nap is gone the days just become hectic.  Riley has a quiet time period during Liam’s nap each day.  She needs to check out, watch a show, read some stories, and just play with her dolls by herself so that she can enjoy the afternoon.  Make it happen.

5.    Visualization:  Young children have the benefit of living in a world of active imaginations.  This can come in handy when they are over-stimulated.  Visualizing something happy helps children relax and release their stress.  Have your child lie comfortably on the bed and close his eyes.  Ask him to describe his favorite memory and use that memory to describe something that makes him happy.  I often cue Riley to take a few deep breaths in the beginning, but by the time she finds her happy memory she becomes very calm and does the breathing on her own.

6.    Relaxation Breathing:  Deep breathing is quite possibly the best way to relax your body.  Deep breathing, when done correctly, lowers your heart rate and normalizes your blood pressure.  If you tell your child to take a deep breath, he will most likely take a very quick deep breath.  Children need to practice slow, deliberate breathing that relaxes the body.  The Cotton Ball Relaxation Game adds a little fun to deep breathing.  Children have to use slow, deep breaths to move the cotton ball from one end of the table to another.  See the video below.  If they learn to use deep breathing exercises when they’re calm, they will be better able to retain the information and visualize the exercise when they are upset.  Another great exercise is blowing up balloons.


How do you help your kids relax?

Holiday Overload? (Tips for enjoying a stress free holiday season)


It’s only December 12th, but just about every night since Thanksgiving Riley has uttered the following words before bed, “TOMORROW when I wake up will Santa be here?”It’s seems the celebrating starts earlier each year, and when Hanukah falls at the very beginning of December it can make for a very long month of holidays.Depending on your preschool, there is probably a fair amount of project making centered around the holidays starting December 1st.Wreaths, trees, ornaments, gift wrapping, singing…it’s four weeks of curriculum!Then there’s the decorating at home. My sister and her husband, and many of my friends and their spouses, come from different religious backgrounds.Eight nights of Hanukah followed by the seemingly never-ending slow approach to Christmas is enough to send any mom running for cover!Preschoolers love to decorate no matter your holiday.And thanks to the many companies specializing in holiday décor, you will never be at a loss for things to hang around your house!I have to admit, I’m guilty of wanting to decorate early too.I love the smell of a Christmas tree while gingerbread men bake in the oven. It reminds me of home.It’s the one time of year that LA doesn’t feel so different.Everyone gets into the spirit, even if it’s 70 degrees. And my husband gets the party started BEFORE Thanksgiving!He has a love of Christmas music that can’t quite be described, and he truly waits all year to break out the holiday play list again.November 1st is about as long as he can wait.This year I made the mistake of downloading the Salvation Army Holiday Music App to his iPhone in early November.Needless to say, he’s hooked.While all of this early holiday cheer can be fun (or annoying, depending on your tolerance for near constant celebrating) for adults, it can result in holiday overload for toddlers and preschoolers.While four year olds are just starting to grasp a concept of time (they begin to understand that “tomorrow” follows “tonight” and that “a few minutes” is less than “an hour”) most little ones just can’t conceptualize one month, or even one week.When the talk about the holidays begins early, it can make for a very long wait.One of my favorite children’s book authors, Anna Dewdney, just published a new story about this very topic, “Llama Llama Holiday Drama”.We read it daily this point.Get on Amazon now if you don’t already have it. One book can’t completely de-stress your overloaded child, so below are some tips for enjoying a stress-free (or less stressed!) holiday:
1.Countdown Calendars:Riley recently perfected her ability to count backwards from ten.We are now counting down absolutely everything while poor little Liam yells, “no Mommy, that’s not right!” (He recently perfected his ability to count UP to 20!)The point is, aside from Liam, who doesn’t love a countdown?Growing up it used to be that you opened the window of holiday calendar each day to find a different Christmas scene.I remember thinking that it was fun.Leave it to Pottery Barn to make it better.Now you can buy great countdown calendars in all sorts of designs (we have a Christmas tree but I just saw a cute snowman at Target) just about anywhere.Fill it with all sorts of little treats and see their eyes light up each morning, as they get one day closer to the big day.I actually think these can be used for Hanukah too…although you will have to plan ahead to get the dates straight and make sure you start on time (I can barely accomplish this with a December 1st start each year!)The benefit is that it gives them a way to see time pass as they wait to celebrate.They can also make their own by cutting strips of colored paper and using glue to fasten them together to make a chain.Then they can rip one link off each morning and watch the chain become smaller as their holiday approaches.A similar strategy is the “Elf on a Shelf”.It seems many moms have a love/hate relationship with the Elf (given that it adds one more thing to do each night), but I kind of enjoy it.The kids get really excited to find “Elfie” each morning, who is now a part of the family, and it refocuses their attention on a fun holiday game.
2.Focus on giving:Whether they are thinking about eight nights of gifts or one huge pile, it’s a lot of anticipation.With American Girl, Target, and Toys R Us sending new catalogues almost weekly, the wish list can be a mile long by the time mid-December hits.Try to shift the focus on giving.On my birthday Riley asked, “Mommy, do you LOVE getting presents?”Without much thought I replied, “I do, but I really love to give presents.I love to see how people feel when they open a gift that I picked out just for them.”She thought about for a minute and then replied, “I love that too because I always pick special things”.I have to say that she also REALLY LOVES opening her own presents!But today she came home from preschool with a special gift that she made and wrapped just for me.She didn’t want to wait until Christmas.I had to hold back tears when I opened the candle jar, and when I looked up she had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.Focus on giving.Involve your kids in choosing a gift for a sibling, grandparent, cousin, close friend, etc.Teach them to put some thought into it.Let them have that moment of pride when they make someone’s day.
3.Showcase the cards:You know those beautiful holiday cards that start piling up on the counter?Just like the one that you worried about having the perfect picture for?Hang them up for the kids to see (I hang mine along the bookshelves in the family room)!Spend time talking about who is in each card and what that person means to all of you.They are sending you the card because you are important to them.Share that with your kids.Let them ask questions and look at each card as it gets taped up.Enjoy those beautiful cards that your friends worked so hard to create!
4.Send holiday cheer to our troops:I’ve always felt strongly about this one, but through the reconnecting power of Facebook I’ve learned that a few old girlfriends married men in the military.They are lucky to have them home this holiday season, but have spent other holidays (and many, many regular days) apart.No matter what side of the party line you call yours, there’s no arguing that there are many brave men and women (who also happen to be daddies, mommies, siblings, children, etc.) out there keeping our country safe so that we can live our lives as we see fit.Teach your kids to show appreciation for people who help us.Have them decorate Christmas cards for our soldiers and send them overseas.I’m not advocating a discussion on terrorism for toddlers and preschoolers.There are ways to help them understand this very important job without scaring them (they will learn all about it soon enough).When Riley encountered a soldier in an airport she said, “wow, cool outfit.Why does he dress like that?”I replied, “that soldier has a very important job.Just like rules keep us safe at home, rules keep our whole country safe.He helps make sure that everyone follows the rules.”While this is a gross simplification for purposes of teaching a then three year old about soldiers, it helped her to understand that there is always someone looking out for her safety.Sending a card to show appreciation is a great way for kids to reach out.Check out for more information.
5.Create memories:Everyone has a favorite holiday memory.My husband loved opening his stocking on Christmas morning.I loved the pre-Christmas baking.My mom made huge batches gingerbread and sugar cookie dough (half green, half red) and we all sat around the table with the cookie cutters and various decorating tools.We were on a mission to make the “best” cookie for Santa.It was a magical time.Consequently, I am always baking with my kids!But if baking isn’t your thing, find a fun craft to do as a family.Make ornaments together.Create and end of the year photo album.Have a sing along.Be creative!Do something as a family that you can turn to year after year and know that it will always be fun.
6.Pick a cause:It’s always a good time to teach your kids to give back, but around the holidays the needs seem to increase.While I think we should talk about helping others early and often (even in small ways, like helping someone pick up something they dropped or holding the door for another), it’s a nice idea to pick a cause to focus on during the holiday season.“Toys for Tots” is great for kids because they can actually help choose a toy that they think another child might enjoy.Again, simplify the explanation right now.Don’t burden them with too much overwhelming information, which will most certainly cause them to stay up at night wondering if they will someday be the ones needing the toys.The important thing is to teach them that it’s nice to give to others.Huggies recently conducted their own research, which revealed that 1 in 3 American families struggles to provide diapers for their babies.I’m so horrified by this that I’m telling everyone I know.They are asking for help in the form of donations through their site, or by hosting diaper drives and dropping the diapers at the nearest food bank (which they will locate for you).Consider helping a baby in need and learn more by visiting
I hear people referencing “holiday stress” more and more these days.Let’s bring the good tidings back to the holiday season by refocusing on giving and creating special memories.The gifts will come and go, but the family traditions will last a lifetime.Enjoy these last few weeks of holiday cheer!
P.S.I recently joined Twitter and can be found at @practicalmom.And please visit my Facebook page when you get a chance by clicking on my badge!Thanks for reading and sharing questions and comments, I look forward to writing each new post for you!