Learn a few tips to help improve toddler behavior during the holidays to keep the special celebrations merry and bright—with less meltdowns, fussing, and whining for all!

kids plate with pumpkin pie and pear slices

Toddler Behavior

The holidays are filled with happy moments, but as a parent to a little one, you may sometimes worry about those not-so-happy ones. It can be a lot for a toddler to manage all of the emotions that come along with special days and that can often lead to meltdowns right in the midst of it all. And while that might happen (okay, it probably will happen at some point but remember that we’ve all been there!), there are a few things you can do with meals and routines to have calmer and happier holidays.

How to Help Toddler Behavior During the Holidays

Ashley Smith of Veggies and Virtue is back to help with some super simple tips to help us all have more happy in our lives. Ashley is a busy mom to three kids and has great advice for creating routines and systems to create a comforting structure around the kids to help them be better able to manage their big feelings.

Toddler Behavior Tip #1. Model Enjoyment of Holiday Food

It can also be helpful to remember that while you may look forward to special holiday food, your child may not remember it from last year. It’s 100% okay if they just eat the bread or crackers, though you may need to help them to not get bogged down in their feelings about what’s being served for any given meal.

“It is important that we show that it is okay to not be 100% in control of what we eat, not only for how it makes our host families feel, but also because it shows our children that we can enjoy all foods no matter who’s serving them,” Ashley says. And remember: “Just as we as adults have more loosened up eating habits around the holidays, our kids will be too. But the way we model healthy eating to them model to them can help teach them the behaviors to self-regulate on their own as they grow.”

I love to keep this in mind when we eat at other people’s houses where the food may be different than the kids are used to. It’s our job to help them through those moments while understanding their perspective. Help them find a familiar food, show them the foods that you love, and remember that it’s just one meal and it’s okay if it’s not perfectly balanced.

happy holiday mealsToddler Behavior Tip #2. Keep Some Routines

“Grazing will happen and routines will get thrown off with the holidays, but if you expect it, you can stay calm and our children to eat better amidst it all,” Ashley says. “Try to keep a semi-normal meal and snack structure so your child has the comfort of consistency and will be less likely to have a hunger-induced meltdown,” she says.

Bonus: This also provides your child with a little security when meals are offered in an environment that may be unfamiliar to them. Talk to family members about timing meals to allow your child to stick to their nap. Kindly ask that snack plates and candy bowls aren’t left out all day long to help the kids eat at specific times. And bring along familiar items, such as a favorite cup or bib, to have some familiarity wherever you may be.

Toddler Behavior Tip #3. Adjust Meals and Snack as Needed

“If your family does a late lunch/early dinner for the holiday meal, consider a more hearty bedtime snack,” Ashley says. And: “When snacks are out all day and grazing is inevitable, try to maintain your schedule while also assuming that your child eat less than normal at actual meal and snack times.”

This is a simple way to make sure that your child has enough opportunities to fuel up and provides consistency with healthy eating habits even when there are more snacks and treats around. You can also add in a simple bedtime snack like a banana or yogurt or toast if dinner is earlier than usual.

Toddler Behavior Tip #4. Protect the Nap

Obviously this may differ depending on the child, but if there’s one thing we try to protect, it’s nap time. Whether it happens in the car, is shorter than usual, or looks more like quiet time with books, building a little downtime into the holiday schedule can make the evening go a lot smoother. Talk to your host if a holiday meal will occur right around nap time (those without toddlers may not realize how important naps are!), or maybe take it as an omen that you should enjoy the meal in relative peace while your little one sleeps!

And if you have a day where the nap just doesn’t happen, lower your expectations for both eating consistency and behavior a bit. Because it’s hard for little ones to do both well when they’re tired! Something as simple as finding a quiet corner to read a few books can help reset toddler behavior if needed.

pumpkin cinnamon rolls

Toddler Behavior Tip #5. Remember these Days are Fleeting

Holidays are special for many reasons—including that they’re different than the everyday! “Try to resume normal routines as soon as possible but try to avoid negative self-talk about guilt or shame over any of the indulgences you made,” Ashley says. “Instead, discuss what you savored most about that food, time, or memory that made these indulgences most worth it if/when they come up.”

“Talk about how relaxing it was to slow down, and yet how excited you are to also find seasonal ways to enjoy more activity on the days you can,” she says. This can help to subtly remind kids of what’s important and to solidify those early memories for years to come. The special food and crazy routines are not the new normal, so try not to worry too much in the moment—you will soon be back to your normal day to day.

And if things seem like they’re going off the rails with toddler behavior or general moods, put on coats and head outside for a dose of fresh air. It’s amazing what that can do for all of our moods!

Thanks so much for the awesome tips Ashley!

I’d love to hear your tips on helping the kids through big emotions during the holidays, so please chime in below!

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