Surviving the Holiday Hustle: Three Tips for Positive Toddler Behavior

By Brittney Stefanic


I thought I loved Christmas time before having my son, but I have quickly realized that there is nothing more magical than viewing the delight of the holidays through the eyes of a toddler!


However, there is nothing more frustrating that an overtired and totally crabby toddler for the ENTIRE month of December. So, to help us all out, here are three easy to implement tips for ensuring positive toddler behavior during the busy holiday season!


1: Be predictable

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is hard to know exactly what the month has in store. There are so many class parties, cookie exchanges, neighborhood get-togethers and trips to see Santa. Surely naptime will be skipped at least a few days this holiday season, and that’s okay AS LONG AS your toddler knows what to expect. You see, tots are creatures of habit who thrive off of predictability and knowing what comes next. They love structure and routine (even if they push the boundaries day after day), so change is tough for them.


By all means, do #allthethings this season, but be sure to be up front and reasonable with your little one. If your after lunch routine is going to be heading to see a holiday movie with your older kiddos, instead of taking a nap, be sure you tell your toddler this and encourage a brief car nap to take the edge off.


As for your evening routine and bedtime itself, keep things as “normal” as possible. Sure you may attend a late night church service on Christmas Eve or have friends over for a dinner party on New Years Eve, but even if the timing of your routine changes, keep the steps the same. Remember that toddlers and pre-schoolers LOVE to know what’s next and they are quite thrown off by any surprises or changes. And when they are out of their element, we notice an increase in the frequency and duration of their whining and/or tantrums!


2: Be realistic in your expectations

If you skip naptime to see Santa at the mall, keep in mind that your afternoon might be a little more “emotional” than normal. No only is the day different than expected, but less sleep and more sugar can send our little ones into a bit of a tailspin. Since you’ve made the decision to skip the nap, it will be important that you adjust the rest of the afternoon, too.


It would be pretty unrealistic to expect an overtired (and hyped up on sugar) toddler to go sit quietly at a coffee shop during your client meeting the same afternoon that they skipped their nap to see Santa!


There will always be things that pop up unexpectedly because #momlife, but being fair with the things that we purposefully fill our calendar with will help your little one and prevent you from being stressed, frazzled and upset when the rest of the day doesn’t go as planned!

And remember that if your tot is used to napping and doesn’t get one because of a scheduling conflict, plan to be home early that night to compensate with an early bedtime. Meltdowns are much more likely to occur when our little ones are overtired and overstimulated!


3: Give time to recover

This season is one of exceptions which is fine and handled well by our toddlers (most of the time), but behavior can spiral out of control pretty quickly for this age group. If you know that you are going to have a jam packed Wednesday night because of a class party followed by a school play and cookie decorating at Grandma’s house, be sure that Thursday is a home-bound day with time to recover.


This is particularly important when planning daytime activities. When we stack skipped nap days (no nap on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, for example), we are sending a message to our little one’s brain and body that we are no longer expecting or giving time for a nap. This will likely result in much naptime protest on Sunday.


So, instead of this, try preserving naptime (and/or bedtime routine) the day before and after the “off day”. Not only will this help your little one recuperate any sleep debt that has accumulated as a result of the altered schedule, but it will prompt a reminder to them that napping is still normal, despite skipping it yesterday!


It may seem a bit inconvenient to build in time to “fix” any missed sleep, but in the end, a well-rested toddler is less likely to show attention seeking and negative behavior.


There’s always Santa

I hope these three tips are useful for supporting your little person this season. And if all else fails… You can always remind them that Santa is watching! He seems to be pretty motivating this time of year for positive behavior!


Brittney Stefanic is a certified whole-family sleep consultant. She gets that life as a mom is TOUGH, especially with the hustle and bustle of the holidays! If your family’s sleep struggle is preventing “Silent Nights” in your house, it is likely that you are totally beat and not looking forward to the craziness of this season! As an educator, Brittney believes in the power of teaching and loves supporting families in meeting their sleep goals through her customized sleep plans. You can follow her on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook @brittneystefanicsleep for access to her free sleep tips and tricks and opportunities for sleep virtual Q&A sessions.