Holiday stress. Acting up over Christmas. And how you can help.

Ever ask yourself WHY kids have holiday tantrums? Instead of just trying to “deal with it”, really look into the situation and ask what’s triggering the behaviour.

Because it is true, little ones DO in fact tend to act out a lot more over Christmas and while on vacation.

And there’s a very intriguing reason behind the holiday tantrums…

Why do kids have holiday tantrums?

As fun and relaxing as holidays are meant to be (see the awesome selection of kids books in December), you have to take into account that holidays are often filled with a whole lot of NEW and out-of-the-ordinary things.

New faces (visiting friends and relatives) and places (if you’re out and about). The bright and loud shop displays combined with more frequent mall visits, for last-minute Christmas things.

A definite change in routine – no school, late nights and different naptimes (or none at all). Lots of sweets and sugar. Not to mention more social gatherings and adult parties where kids have to sit still and be on their best behaviour.

All in all, the holidays are an (admittedly fun!) time of:

You know, all the stuff you guard against the rest of the year.

And the cherry on the Christmas pudding is that we expect our kids to act normally and be on their best behaviour through all of this. That is arguably what causes a sense of DYSREGULATION, which your child doesn’t know how to voice other than to have a complete mini meltdown – an outburst or tantrum.

This is where emotional regulation comes in…

Emotional regulation and building emotional intelligence

OK, so apart from cancelling Christmas, there’s really not much a parent can do about the stimulation the season brings. This is the world your child needs to live in, after all.

But this might be a great opportunity for you as a parent to help your child learn to navigate their complex emotions during this time, and in life.

Remember, children are still developing emotional intelligence, so being able to regulate themselves is something they (and even some adults!) still need to learn.

OK, but what is emotional regulation and how do you explore it?

Child psychologist and author, Dr Mona Delahooke (do check out her blog for more insights) says parents can help children build emotional regulation in a few ways:

  1. Respond with empathy and compassion to the child’s emotions.
  2. Help the child put their feelings into perspective (understand why and where it comes from).
  3. Allowing children to freely experience their emotions – good or “bad” – by letting them know it’s all OK and completely natural.

Check out our collection of books about being yourself for kids.

In other words, when your child acts out, do NOT scold or punish them, but instead recognise whatever they are feeling as normal human behaviour. And then respond to it with empathy.

An easy place to begin practising this is to use the principles of skillsets like Non-Violent Communication or Lateral Communication, where you avoid making any judgment about any action and start a conversation by simply stating (objectively) what you have just seen or experienced…

“Hey my baby, I see you knocked the teddy out of your cousin’s hand.” 

Then try and name the emotion you think led to the action (with young kids, the best you can do is guess)...

“Are you feeling a bit frustrated my love?”

Make it normal…

“Oh, yeah, I sometimes get frustrated when there are a lot of people around too…”

And then open the dialogue…

“Do you want to talk about the things that are frustrating you right now?”

Tools for talking about emotions

World-renowned psychologist John Gottman’s studies on emotional intelligence show that the most important part is talking to your child about their emotions. Really explore them by having a conversation about how they’re feeling.

That really boosts a child’s development. For example, Gottman says an emotionally intelligent child learns much faster how to walk away from unpleasant situations and how to select things that are pleasant and good for them – all by themselves!

Here are some handy tools for talking about emotions:

  1. Stomping around outside like dinosaurs
  2. Kicking a ball into a wall
  3. Squishing playdough in your hands
  4. Jumping on a trampoline
  5. Scribbling with chalk on the bricks or a chalkboard. 
  6. Take deep, deep breaths

Psst. You might find our collection of books about ways to deal with emotions helpful.

Recommended Book: Crocs Don’t Do Yoga 

 Crocs Don’t Do Yoga is the latest Nooksy release by Michelle Wilson. And it’s all about a snappy, snappy crocodile…

We have a new book launching on the Nooksy app that’s ideal for exploring big emotions with your little one! Crocs Don’t Do Yoga is the latest Nooksy release by Michelle Wilson. And it’s all about a snappy, snappy crocodile…

Connie the crocodile is very snappy, pouty and prone to tantrums.

The tiniest little setback sends her into a frenzy – and all the other creatures need to run for cover.

But then, an unlikely little friend comes along with a special suggestion for an activity that could help calm Connie right down.

Will the cranky croc be brave enough to try it?

Find out when Crocs Don’t Do Yoga launches on 12 December 2022 on Nooksy.

You might also like…

Discover all the amazing benefits of reading to your child, a helpful guide on how to select books for your child and boost engagement with ideas on how to read each page. And get into a good flow by creating a solid family reading routine.

Also see how reading improves school readiness, how reading develops empathy and discover how reading increases concentration and focus.

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