• How to Manage When Kids Misbehave or Throw Tantrums at Family Gatherings

    A break from your usual routine throws off kids who need the structure.
    by Kitty Elicay .
How to Manage When Kids Misbehave or Throw Tantrums at Family Gatherings
PHOTO BY iStock
  • It’s not uncommon for Filipinos to hold family gatherings and reunions during the Christmas season — it’s probably the only holiday where adults and children alike get to have a long break. But while it’s a fun, and magical season where you can exchange gifts and catch-up with relatives you haven’t seen in a while, it can be one of the most stressful situations not only for you but your child as well.

    The long vacation means a break from your usual routine, which can throw off kids who need the structure. They will meet relatives for the first time — people who would ask for hugs or a mano and will expect to be regaled with stories. They will be asked to eat unfamiliar dishes and are expected to be at their best behavior. These can make any kid scared and nervous, especially young kids who are naturally shy and quiet.

    Here are some tips from experts at the Child Mind Institute that will help both parents and kids have peace of mind during the holidays:

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    How to help your child adjust to family gatherings and lessen the misbehavior and tantrums

    Set expectations.

    A visit to a relative’s house can be pretty exciting, especially if your child gets to play with his cousins. But kids will be kids and they can end up misbehaving, even fighting with each other.

    Before leaving the house, sit down with your child about how you want him to behave, and specify what the consequences will be if he forgets to follow. Knowing what the rules are when they are at another house is always helpful especially for young kids.

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    Talk to the hosts before your arrival.

    If you’re celebrating the holidays in another person’s house, it’s best to brief them about your child’s usual behavior, what they can expect, and what topics to avoid talking about. “Warn family members about sensitive topics in the same way you’d warn people in advance that your child has a nut allergy,” says Dr. Steven Dickstein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

    In the same vein, talk to your child about hugs and kisses they can expect from relatives, and whether they are comfortable with the idea or not. “Telling your child that she owes someone a hug can set the stage for her questioning whether she ‘owes’ another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life,” according to the Girls Scouts of the U.S.

    “You want to avoid those mandatory hugs and kisses or cheek-pinching for kids that don’t do that or like it,” says Dr. Dickstein.

    At the end of the day, it is your responsibility to manage your child’s behavior, but it would also be helpful if other people are mindful of the way they interact with your child as well.

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    Create a safe place for your child when she needs peace and quiet.

    Holiday gatherings can be chaotic. If your child is easily overstimulated or sensitive to noise and crowds, you should prepare an area where he can retreat for a short break. If the house is too full, a walk outside with your child can help calm him down when things get overwhelming.

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    Keep kids occupied.

    Some reunions require a trip out of town, and long drives are sure to bore your child. Pack various activities that will keep him entertained for the duration of the trip. You can use an over-the-door plastic organizer and fill it with his favorite toys and books. Hang it behind the passenger seat so he can easily reach out and pick what toys he wants to play with.

    Another idea: sensory bins. Choose a container with a lid and fill it with uncooked rice or pasta, paper, and kinetic sand. Add fillers like small plastic animals, cars, balls, and other tactile toys for hours of fun.

    Don’t forget to have stopovers even if it’s not too long of a trip. “Kids who get restless or have difficulty managing their impulsive behavior might really benefit from getting out of the car and running around for a few minutes,” says Dr. Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.

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    Make sure your child knows that he can come to you anytime he feels uncomfortable.

    As much as you’d like to, you can’t expect family gatherings to run smoothly. The kids might not get along, and your child might be uncomfortable or frustrated when he doesn’t get his way. If he feels afraid or anxious, set aside your own needs and acknowledge his feelings. Assure them that you are there and that you won’t be leaving them. “Your child needs your presence, not necessarily your words,” says Iben Sandahl, a Danish parenting expert and psychotherapist.

    At the same time, use these occasions as a teachable moment. “Let kids know that family is important and sometimes you have to deal with people you don’t really like, but you should work it out if you can,” says Dr. Dickstein. “As parents, you are probably doing that with your relatives, too, so you can model good social behavior.”

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