How to avoid holiday tantrums: 5 sure ways to improve the mood

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Cute little girl with treats for Santa

Managing tantrums, meltdowns and stress are usually not on the holiday to-do list, but when you have kids, you need to have a plan.

Stear clear of dreaded holiday tantrums and sulking — and hold on to your sanity — with these parenting tips that are sure to put more merry in your Christmas.

The most wonderful time of the year?

Most adults look forward to the holiday season, expecting it to be filled with fun, warmth, and generosity. However, the same time of the year can feel like a big trap for parents with kids and teenagers.

For most families, there comes a time when kids get tired and cranky, overstimulated and overwhelmed, greedy about their presents, or miffed about having to hang out with the grownups. So what is a weary parent to do?

Cute girl with a Christmas present

Promote the positive

“Stop doing that!” “Santa’s not going to come if you’re bad.” Sound familiar?

This is a common thing that parents say to try to keep their kids behaving appropriately, particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Words like stop, bad, don’t and wrong are stressful for a child to hear — especially repeatedly — and they certainly risk tantrums and meltdowns.

Instead, use words of encouragement to invite them to cooperate. Say something as simple as “Thank you for putting your toys back on the shelves.”

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You can also expand it a little to mention how it will benefit them, too: “It’s so nice how you take care of your toys! Now they will be easy to find the next time you want to play.”

Taking a positive approach is far more encouraging, and likely to promote the kind of behavior you want. You don’t even need to bring Santa into it, especially if you know it’s an empty threat anyway.

It’s okay to let kids have some control

Perhaps you’ve set your heart on having your daughter wear an adorable T-shirt with a cute reindeer pattern… but she doesn’t like it.

In fact, you may notice that the more you insist on a particular outfit on kids, the more they resist.

This is a good time to pick your battles — and avoid tantrums.

If it’s just too hard to give up control of your child’s fashion sense, try offering them a chance to choose between two or three possible options.

Since kids like to be in control of what they do or don’t do, most will appreciate the idea that they get to decide what to wear. It’s certainly going to be a lot better than mom or dad commanding the situation, and giving them no choice at all.

MORE: 10 cute Santa Claus Christmas coloring pages (plus ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas)

It’s okay to skip the hugs (and the tantrums!)

Family gatherings call for a lot of greetings — meaning kids are often expected to hug and kiss relatives. This can easily make kids and teenagers uncomfortable if they feel like it violates their personal space.

If you are worried about relatives expecting warm greetings, teach your kids to (audibly, and hopefully enthusiastically) say hello, or even wave and smile. If their great aunt asks for a hug and you know that’s not in your child’s repertoire for the day, run interference for them.

Remember: It’s natural for kids to take a while to warm up to new folks, so we should respect that by allowing them to greet family and old friends the way they feel most comfortable. And you’re also teaching them, in kind, to respect the boundaries of others when the situation is reversed.

Three girls with Christmas trees and presents - Avoid holiday tantrums

SOME FUN STUFF: 100 Christmas tree coloring pages: The ultimate (free!) printable collection

Encourage happy eating

Food plays a huge role in holiday festivities, from turkey and ham to cookies and pies.

However, children resist eating foods they don’t know well — particularly things only served once a year that might look a little unusual to them. (Aunt Beth’s Jello ring, anyone?)

Try not to force the issue. Instead, let them choose between familiar foods and let them decide what they’d like to eat.

Save the pleas to “just try one bite” or “you have to finish that before you can have dessert” for another day. It’s not worth the tantrums to back yourself into a corner on this argument!

Make connection, not perfection

Avoid trying to impose arbitrary (but truly unnecessary) things you want to make your family look picture perfect — matching sweaters, expecting kids to warmly greet people they hardly know, and whatever else you might be tempted to try to make the holiday Instagram-worthy.

Focus on the big picture, not the little stuff. If your child likes to wear something other than the clothes you chose for her, let her be. Likewise, if they don’t want to hug people, don’t force them.

The holiday season is a beautiful time to make memories, and being thoughtful of how you connect with your family can make the winter celebrations a more magical time.

After all, it is your time together, making happy memories, that matters most in the long run.

Sugar and spice

Finding the balance between meeting your dream of a warm and wonderful family gathering and creating happy memories with your children can be tricky.

But by following your child’s lead, being understanding about why kids do the things they do, and modeling your own best behavior, you can make the holidays enjoyable — and much less stressful! — for both you and your family.

NOW SEE THIS: 9 great ways to wake up kids in a positive way + free printable morning checklists

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