The holidays are undoubtedly a time for joy and family traditions, but it’s also the time of year when our kids are bombarded with lots of changes in their everyday routines—and let’s just say that sometimes, those changes don’t translate well. The holiday season can leave parents feeling stretched thin and wondering how to minimize tantrums (or avoid them altogether).

I admittedly was blindsided by toddler temper tantrums this holiday season. I failed to recognize how the combination of excitement and a change in our day-to-day routine (which is pretty structured!) was not only overwhelming for me, but for my son as well.

Related: 23 mom-tested ways to manage a tantrum (that really work)

A few weeks ago, we went to a play that my husband was performing in. Now, knowing how my child acts when he’s in public for an extended period of time, I packed a bag with snacks and toys to keep him occupied. Little did I know that my attempted aversions would not suffice for the tantrums that were coming my way.

He refused to sit still. He wanted to run around. He wanted to hold my phone—and then throw it. He wanted to go to his dad. He wanted his snacks, but also wanted to dump them on the floor. And then he just flat-out went bonkers. I just didn’t feel like I could win here. 

Another day, we went to an event my friend invited us to—and practically the same thing occurred. I had no idea how to deal with toddler tantrums in public because it was all so new to me. I felt like a mess.

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When I reflected on both situations, I realized that my son was completely out of his element. He was (and always has been) giddy to be out of the house around other people. But he was also most likely shocked by the change of his routine. Both events took place during the time he’d usually be winding down for bed after eating dinner and taking his bath. But due to the increase in activities during the holiday season, we were out and about instead.

Let’s admit it, most of us probably feel overwhelmed when dealing with toddler temper tantrums in a public setting. No parent wants their child having a meltdown in the middle of a grocery store, at a restaurant or godforbid during a play. But let’s face it—sometimes it happens to the best of us. And the most important thing we can do is learn how to meet those tantrums head on and diffuse them—and also recognize why our child might be feeling overwhelmed in the situation. 

I had the opportunity to with Sourav Sengupta, MD, MPH, chief clinical officer at Hopscotch. We discussed why the holiday seasons evoke more toddler temper tantrums and how to approach them.

Related: 8 Montessori-friendly ways to handle tantrums in public or private

“The holidays are exciting! And when children are excited, they have less access to the part of their brain that can regulate their emotions and impulses (which are still developing). So the combination of extra stimulation from holiday activities with less ability to control their emotions can leave children more vulnerable to tantrums and meltdowns.” 

“It’s also challenging for parents because they are experiencing so much of their emotional ‘ups and downs’ right out in the open in public instead of in their home or a more private setting.” 

Though toddler temper tantrums during the holidays can be one of the least joyful things about the season, there are ways to potentially minimize the meltdowns (or at least the intensity of them) this season. 

How to minimize tantrums during the holidays

1. Be prepared

“Preparation is key. That includes emotional preparation that tantrums will happen—despite our best efforts—and we need to be understanding with our children and ourselves when they do. It also includes logistical preparation that’s all about pattern recognition and having a Plan A, Plan B and sometimes even a Plan C.” 

2. Be aware of your child’s difficulties

“You need to observe and recognize your child’s patterns of difficulty. Do they struggle when they are suddenly in a large crowd of loud and boisterous family members? Do they have a hard time with unexpected transitions? Or do they turn their nose up at all the new foods at the holiday table?” 

“Plan A is often just speaking with them calmly, as privately as possible, seeking to understand and validate their challenge and sharing your thoughts and guidance. Plan B is having an alternative in mind and ready to deploy (like having a holiday helper job or watching a special holiday movie until they’re acclimated). And Plan C is knowing that sometimes you just need to give them time and space for the emotional storm to settle down.”

Related: 3 reasons not to ignore your child’s tantrums (and what to do instead) 

3. Know what kind of tantrum you’re dealing with 

“A tantrum that’s full of big, overwhelming feelings may need your calm words and physical comfort. One that seems a bit more attention-based may require a separate space away from you and/or other family to fizzle out.”

4. Understand your child’s triggers

“If you can develop a sense of the patterns that are more likely to trigger tantrums for your child, you can play a little defense! Give them extra tools to manage overwhelming feelings or sensory experiences. Keep them active with preferred activities during challenging transitions. Minimize the opportunity for boredom to trigger a tantrum by having a few structured fun activities (e.g. drawing and coloring contest, scavenger hunt) in your back pocket if things are starting to boil over.” 

“In general, while kids understand that the holidays are out of the ordinary, they still want to know what’s going on. Let them know, as best you can, what’s coming up for the day and try as much as possible to keep some regular routines (storytime, family breakfast together, cleaning up as you go).”

Though these are just a handful, there are many tips out there for how to handle a child’s tantrum that can work for you and your child. So give it your best go this holiday season! You may just surprise yourself—and even lessen the blow of those toddler temper tantrums along the way.

Featured Expert

Sourav Sengupta, MD, MPH, is the Chief Clinical Officer at Hopscotch .