Five Ways to Prevent Holiday Meltdowns

Simple Tips for Keeping the Joy in the Season


Holidays with kids are great until they’re overstimulated and have holiday meltdowns. Here’s advice for how to stop the implosion before it happens.


Keep your focus on your kids


Holidays are always hectic -- parties, events, visiting family -- and it can be hard to keep to normal routines. Kids can get overwhelmed by the chaos of it all, so it is important to watch them for signs that it is all getting to be a bit too much. Therapist Michael Behmer advises you should be willing to change plans if you children seem overwhelmed or like they just need a little time with you.


Making sure your kids are getting enough exercise and are getting outdoors can help them burn off some of that anxious energy and ease their anxieties. And keeping them busy can be a blessing, too. Behmer advises finding ways to get kids involved in holiday activities and always having a distraction at the ready to avert an emotional outburst.

Guy Winch, licensed psychologist, keynote speaker and author, says children can be recruited to make decorative arts and crafts, set tables or be in charge of announcements and messages, such as “Dinner in 5 minutes.”

No one knows your children better than you, so the best thing you can do during the holiday season is stay attuned to them and watch for signs that they’re feeling stressed. If you see them struggling, take 15 minutes to take a walk around the block or to read their favorite book to soothe them.


Routine matters


While it can be a challenge, ensuring your kids keep their normal routine amid all the holiday hullabaloo can go a long way to ensuring their emotional well-being. By sticking to routines you ensure children are getting proper nutrition and enough rest, which can better prepare them for the excitement of the season.


Katie Hurley, LCSW and a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting educator in Los Angeles, reminds that children need to sleep, eat, play and unwind, and when pushed to their limits they become stressed and frustrated.

Teach frustration management


While that term might elicit a blank stare from your kids, you can help them recognize and cope with frustration in a way they understand. Among the suggestions are:

  • Using feelings faces charts. Kids might not know how to label what they’re feeling, but such a chart will help children identify what they’re feeling and seek help coping with their emotions.

  • Create a mad list. Have children label those things that make them feel mad, write them down and then tear up the list and allow kids to say goodbye to those bad feelings.

  • Color code their feelings. Give children a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons and ask them to assign a color to their emotions (ie: red is mad, yellow is happy) and then color the page with how they’re feeling. Make sure to point out that if they feel mostly happy, most of the page should be that color, but it doesn’t have to be all that color. It can serve as a lesson that feelings are not all or nothing and help them understand that they can feel mostly happy while also being mad or sad.

Keep your calm

Kids respond to your cues. If you’re stressed out and frantic, they will sense it and will feel under stress. One of the most important things you can do to keep children calm is to stay calm.


If you’re traveling, try not to be rushed. Rather, be calm and prepared to keep your kids at ease. If you’re shopping, consider an adults-only trip so kids won’t take you off schedule or off task. Also make sure your child has packed a few of their favorite things that will provide comfort while on the road.


If you have guests coming, a great way to prep kids for their arrival is to break out the photo albums and talk about the visitors who are on their way. It will put your kids at ease about who is staying in the house if they hear stories and fond memories and see the joy guests’ arrival brings to you.


Take care of yourself


Behmer suggests, “You will be less likely to respond well and calmly to your child if you

are stressed and overwhelmed. You can help to prevent your child’s meltdowns just by taking care of yourself.”


And remember to set realistic expectations. Kids aren’t the only ones who can get overwhelmed at holiday time, so make sure you’re not setting  yourself up for a meltdown, too. Realistic expectations about how much you can get done and how many stops you can make in a day will go a long way toward maintaining your mental and emotional well-being and that will translate into helping your kids cope.


Seek help when you need it


If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask for help from your partner, family members or friends, whether you need an assist with items on your to-do list or with child care while you tackle that list.


If you need help devising strategies for helping your kids (and yourself) cope with holiday stress, our team of family counselors is here to help. Learn more about our family counseling services, or contact us today.