To me, the most beautiful part of the holiday season is that people are so willing to give something positive to each other — a simple smile or a helping hand, a donation of time, or goods, or money to a worthwhile charity to pay forward; a gift to a loved one or a stranger — without the need to be judged in return. Every gift counts. Every gift matters. This is something most of us realize as we mature and journey away from our childhood nests and go out into the wide world, even though the joys of giving — and receiving — are taught to us at a very early age.
For young children, the receiving is understandably more important than the giving. Lexi Walters Wright cautions that while the highlight of the holiday season for children is opening presents, holiday gift exchanges can be a source of frustration and disappointment for children, leading some to tantrums and meltdowns:
The excitement, chaos and lack of routine of the holidays set the stage. If your family has had to travel, your child might feel out of place in unfamiliar surroundings and around people he may not know well. Plus, he’s got the pressure of always having to “be good.”
But even if you’re celebrating quietly at home, the hype and anticipation may make it hard for your child to keep his emotions in check. When expectations run high, disappointments can be especially hard to handle.
This is especially true, Wright says, for children with attention problems, and for those who learn differently. Impatience, impulsivity, inflexibility, overexcitement, and extreme sensitivity are some characteristics that might get in the way of children having a merry old time. I would add that being over-tired from holiday travel, missing naps, and “sugar highs” can make any young child a cranky ol’ Grinch. Wright suggests that parents should try to anticipate negative behaviors and responses in advance:
Avoiding tantrums or meltdowns in the first place is always the best scenario. But for issues that do come up, it helps if you’ve agreed with your child in advance on a look, word or gesture you can use on the spot to help him recognize and stop his behavior.
If he can’t stop even with a signal from you, you can step in and address the situation. Acknowledge both your child’s perspective and the gift-giver’s sentiment. “It’s true; you do already have that doll!—Aunt Sue must know exactly what you like! Thanks, Aunt Sue!” Then try to move on by introducing another gift or a different topic for conversation. And you can always suggest that he go get something to drink or take the dog for a walk.
Wright’s three takeaways to help avoid holiday meltdowns and tantrums:
- Kids who have issues with impulsivity, distractibility or social cues may find gift exchanges difficult.
- Anticipating problems and preparing in advance can help minimize outbursts.
- Observing your child during gift-giving this season can help you strategize for next year.
(Google Images — because it’s too darned cute!)