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Managing Holidays with Toddlers

Hanging out with relatives during the holidays can be heartwarming. But sometimes, what we wish for and what we get sometimes don't match up. Those of us with young children may be particularly nervous about being judged. It stings when those we love criticize our parenting or our children’s behaviors. When we don’t see some family members all that often, we worry that they won't understand.

Will my father think that my toddler always whines?

Will my friends judge my parenting skills if I let my children have 2 desserts or eat with their fingers?

Will Aunty think my child is disrespectful if he doesn't sit when others are unwrapping gifts?

Disrupted schedules, unsolicited parenting advice, and unruly toddlers can dampen yuletide spirits. So, how do we manage our wee ones and the in-laws?


Managing Young Children


Adults have more flexibility than children when it comes to changing sleep routines. The time your child eats and naps at childcare may not match holiday happenings. A young child who stays up 2 extra hours at night, doesn't sleep 2 hours later. A toddler off schedule may have more difficulty managing energy and emotions.

Holding Baby

Decide ahead of time how you want to handle loving the baby. Is it okay if everyone holds the baby after washing hands? Or would you prefer (or does your baby prefer) that you hold the baby? Your clarity will make it easier for the others. If you need, enlist your pediatrician’s advice. “During flu season, our doctor recommends that we not to pass our baby around.”

Picky Eaters

Toddlers are picky eaters. Most one and two-year-olds prefer to eat only one type of food at a time. Reassure Grandma that your child will love the family meal when they get older. Perhaps bring small child-friendly snacks and activities to entertain children while adults eat.


Adults love to linger over a delicious holiday meal. But, for a toddler, fifteen minutes is a long time. Plus child-centered conversations about small bites and peas limits adult engagement. Rotate with a parenting partner or enlist a school-age nephew to play with your toddler. The adults will enjoy the cuisine and conversation. Your child will love the one-to-one interactions.

Gift Giving

Toddlers are more excited to unwrap a gift than play with the present inside. To keep them engaged, bring tape and rewrap and unwrap the gift. Toddlers love finding out that the toy is the same each time. Think of it like hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo.


Tantrums happen. They are a typical part of development. With a calm voice, use simple phrases like “I know it’s hard.” or “So mad.” With a loving adult by her side, the intensity of the protest will diminish in less than 90 seconds.


Managing Adults

Talk ahead of time with holiday hosts or guests.

To create a win-win situation, communicate openly. Share your vision for events and talk about how you can help each other and your children. Focus on what parts of the day are the most important. Set your child up for success by creating a shared understanding of what works best.

Unsolicited Advice

Acknowledge differences. "We all parent differently." Saying this out loud can lay a foundation of respect. Also, become aware of how easy it is to judge others. When we notice our tendencies to judge others, we model awareness and kindness.

Different houses, different rules

Even toddlers can learn that homes and people have different rules. It may be okay to jump on mom’s bed, but not Grandpa’s. "Those are our family's rules" is a handy phrase all the way through high school.


Finding Joy

Engage Parenting Partner

Parenting can be exhausting. Talk ahead of time with your spouse or mom supporting you. It is helpful to have another's caring attention to your child during holiday gatherings. Decide ahead of time who leaves early with the tired toddler, or takes a break during naptime. If there is an event significant to you, ask for help. Perhaps consider hiring an older child as a playmate for your child.

Start New Traditions

Traditions are lovely but at times might some might not be a good fit for toddlers. This is a great time think about what activities are most important to you. Much like parenting, what do I want to repeat from my childhood and what do I want to let go? Consider starting a new tradition or varying an old favorite.

Engage Gratitude

Sometimes we forget to slow down and enjoy the pleasure of being together. This season, remind yourself to take gratitude breaks. Take note of what or whom you are grateful for. Share your joy and appreciation with others. Allow your heart to feel the warmth of the season. This simple practice brings our busy minds and bodies into the present moment.

I would love to hear from you about your holiday happenings, challenges, and joy.

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