Holiday Meltdowns
Tammy Schamuhn | December 8, 2019

I don’t know if your household is anything like mine, but the hustle and bustle of the holidays (and the increased sugar content) tends to make our children a little extra emotional and prone to mood swings that range from squeals of utter joy to wails of frustration that can be heard 5 houses down.  These seemingly bipolar shifts in mood can drive the best of parents pushes to our limits; especially when this time of the year is supposed to be “magical” (insert eye roll here;)

Let me just be clear what’s going on here. . .

First and foremost; you are not alone. What we’ve got here are kids who are used to routine: the same people, activities, and food; who are now pumped up with sugary treats (no judgment here), are bustling from activity to activity (which tend to involve a lot of people, lights, sounds, and smells), and who are running on the “anticipation high” for Mr. Santa Clause or ripping open those beautifully wrapped presents that have been tempting them under the tree all month!

So let’s take these changes in routine, pair them with tons of extra stimulation, and then top it off with an underdeveloped brain

—and boom! The perfect cocktail for emotion dysregulation. The part of the brain involved in filtering out sensory stimulation, the hippocampus, is highly underdeveloped in children, particularly those children under 5 years of age—so all those lights, extended family members they haven’t seen in months, and the tastes of the season cause the brain to go into overwhelm. Then, the icing on the cake, the part of the brain involved in emotion regulation, the pre-frontal cortex, is also highly underdeveloped in children, which is why children—especially young children—lose it so easily.

No wonder our kids meltdown? Heck, I MELTDOWN this time of the year !!

So what can we do. Here is my survival guide for the holidays . . .

As a former teacher and now a child psychologist, I have sat with many children and talked to them about the things they cherish about the holidays, and you would be shocked how many children have told me that’s it’s the little things: reading Christmas stories, cuddled up watching movies with the family sipping hot chocolate, baking cookies with grandma . . . it’s about the quality* time we give our kids that makes Christmas so magical. . . the most precious gift we have to give as busy parents.  It’s OK to say no!

The minute we realize that these behaviours are normal, to be expected, and not an act of taking all your hard efforts for granted, you become less reactive. Here is a great meme to help you through these meltdowns passed onto to us from Sheena Hill, a US-based Responsive Parenting Coach:

While our children LOVE to stay up late, weeks of this are just asking for disaster once they return to school. Now there’s nothing wrong with giving some leeway, but remember kids thrive when given consistency. Don’t let this sacred tenant of parenting fall to the wayside for too long. It will save your sanity, as well as your child’s teacher! It also might mean saying no to a few of those Christmas get togethers, or getting a babysitter leaving kiddos at home.

We sometimes assume (and you know what they say about assuming) that our children need 20 Christmas themed activities carefully planned out after hours of searching on Pinterest and  FB parenting groups to create a magical experience for your kids, but have you ever asked your family what it is that’s important to them? What traditions mean the most? What activities are sacred, and they look forward to? Then pick maybe* 3-5 things to do over the Christmas season. . .  then STOP. . . just stop. Sip your coffee and bailey’s cuddled in a blanket and enjoy the tree you worked so hard to decorate, and simply appreciate the sounds of your children playing (GASP) unsupervised and Pinterest free. Those laughs (or screams;) won’t be there forever, and one day the house will be filled with silence, and we’ll wish we could have some chaos back.

A salute all you hard working parents who try to make this season magical, but please don’t kill yourself with exhaustion trying to create it. You deserve some magic to… the magic of doing less and enjoying more <3

Thinking of all of you!

Tammy Schamuhn, M.Sc., B.Ed, R.Psych., RPT-S
Co-Founder: Institute of Child Psychology

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