If you have a toddler, you might imagine spending the holidays with them sounds pretty great. You can see your little one opening their own gifts for the first time, taking a frame-worthy photo on Santa’s lap and maybe even helping you make cookies.
Yes, it all sounds swell except for one thing: Toddlers and the holidays don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and chocolate. If you’re not careful, the hectic holidays can cause your toddler to have one tantrum after the next — including one for the ages in front of your judgmental Aunt Sally.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to limit the chances of your toddler having a merry meltdown (or five), and maybe even help you enjoy a holiday season like the one in your mind.
- Try to stay on schedule
Keeping your toddler on schedule during the holidays is a huge challenge with the parties, constant visitors and trips to the jam-packed mall, but it’s important to try. If you don’t, your toddler will likely melt down during midnight mass — or at some other incredibly inopportune time. The trick is to prepare in advance and be willing to adapt. If you know you’ll be fighting crowds at the mall during your toddler’s usual lunchtime, bring along a snack that will appease your “hangry” kiddo. Scheduling long drives during your child’s regular nap time is another easy fix. The more normal you can keep things, the more likely your toddler will be to keep it together.
- Keep an eye on the sugar
Your toddlers are going to want to eat their weight 10 times over in candy canes, cookies and hot chocolate, but you must not let them unless you want to see an epic sugar crash (spoiler alert: you don’t). Let them indulge in the tastes of the season in toddler-sized quantities, but otherwise keep them on their usual healthy (okay, healthy-ish) diet. That will keep your toddler from getting wired and leave more cookies and homemade fudge for you. Score!
- Beware of the man in red
Many toddlers are terrified of Santa Claus. They don’t care that he’s a magical man who brings toys, all they know is he’s a giant man with a giant beard who says “Ho, ho, ho” a little too loudly. If your kiddo freaks at the sight of St. Nick, try giving Santa a hug to demonstrate that he is friendly and no one to fear. The odds of this working are very low, but it’s worth a shot. Most importantly, if your kid seems wary of Santa, don’t force an interaction. You’ll regret it if you do.
- Overstimulation is real
Think about your local mall around the holidays: Christmas trees and holly everywhere, flashing lights, and carols blaring over the speakers. It’s a lot to take in for an adult, let alone a toddler. You should do your best to keep high-stimulation outings short, and don’t plan more than one a day unless you’re cool with pushing a screaming child through the crowds.
- So. Many. Presents.
Toddlers are so easy to spoil at the holidays. Even if you somehow manage to not go overboard, the grandparents most definitely will. But if you want to avoid meltdowns, you should let your kiddos open presents at their own pace. If they want to rip through all the presents at lightning speed, that’s fine. If they open one present and want to play with it immediately, let them. The holidays are supposed to be fun, and there’s no rule that says presents have to be unwrapped by a certain time, no matter what your Aunt Sally might tell you.
Mike Spohr is the founding editor of the BuzzFeed Parents vertical, a speaker and a writer. He tweets @newbornidentity.
Heather Spohr is the founder of the family blog, The Spohrs Are Multiplying. She is a writer and has been named Blogger of the Year by thebump.com and a Voice of the Year by BlogHer. She tweets @mamaspohr.
Together, they wrote The Toddler Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Whiny Unfed