Surviving the Season: 

A Parent’s Guide to Tackling Holiday Meltdowns

Julie Johnson, M.Ed. 

Parent Child Connection

The holidays are here, and while the dream is a season filled with joy, let’s face it – the reality can be a bit more chaotic. Your little one tugs at your sleeve every half-hour, begging you to play. But your hands are still sticky from the ginger cake you just made, and you’re already running late for grandma’s house. 

The holiday season stirs up a mix of emotions for everyone, and as parents, we often find ourselves carrying extra stress, and maybe even a tinge of sadness and a touch of anxiety. Our kids, on the other hand, might be experiencing more meltdowns than usual, especially when life becomes unpredictable or feels out of their control.

We all hope our children will showcase their best behavior in front of extended family and friends, but when they don’t, we feel judged and might snap at our little ones. The holidays can be a rollercoaster of excitement, overstimulation, and sleep deprivation, creating the perfect recipe for multiple meltdowns. 

However, the holidays don’t have to be a never-ending series of upsets. Here are some suggestions to lighten the seasonal load:

1. Special Time Before Showtime

Before the arrival of friends and relatives or heading to the next holiday bash, carve out some special time with your little one. Dedicate ten to thirty minutes to engage in whatever activity they choose, saying, “I’ll do or play whatever you want.” Set a timer, put away the phone, play by their rules, snuggle up if needed, and embrace the laughter. This not only boosts your child’s confidence but also strengthens your connection, setting the stage for a more cooperative day.

2. Embrace Your Silly Side

When conflicts arise among siblings, cousins, or friends, inject some silliness into the situation. The “I hope nobody” game can be a winner. For instance, wear a scarf or a long sock as a tail and playfully announce, “I hope nobody touches my tail. I love my tail.” Let the kids team up against you, grab the tail, and run off. Chase them in mock shock, adding an element of fun to diffuse tension.

Alternatively, try “The Fill Up” game to combat whining or uncooperative behavior. Open your arms wide, offering a hug, and say, “I want to make sure you’re filled up with Mommy.” Gauge their “fill level” and continue the game throughout the day to keep spirits high.

Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, says his favorite way to refill a cup fast is DEAP: Drop Everything and Pillow fight!

So, this holiday season, if you or your kids are feeling more frazzled than usual, remember that special time can provide both of you with the connective glue that brings you back to love and sanity. Ramping up the giggles can reduce stress and ward off conflict before it even begins.


If you’d like to know exactly what to say when your child is having a tantrum, download this free PDF for one-liners that will help you feel like a calm and confident parent:


Julie Johnson, M.Ed. is a parent coach and educator with over 20 years experience working with children and parents. She helps parents who have toddlers, teens, and everything in between. They want the world for their children, but they’re at a loss as to how to handle their challenging behavior. Whether it’s defiance, aggression, or multiple meltdowns in a day, the underlying issues that cause those behaviors usually don’t go away on their own. She helps parents use tools that will turn their child’s behavior around as well as strategies to reduce their anger and anxiety so they can be calmer, more confident, and less stressed.