Seven Tips for Coping with Holiday Dinners

What do you do when your little one keeps crawling under the holiday table?

Posted Nov 10, 2013

This time of year is chock full of social gatherings that are stressful for kids and parents. With children on a perpetual sugar high, sitting through long dinners and coping with the excitement of gift-giving, they can easily misbehave. What do you do when your little one keeps crawling under the holiday table annoying family members, or shouts, "I hate Grandma’s mashed potatoes”? Here are some tips that will help you set up the evening for success.

Approach the meal with realistic expectations. You might want your four year old to sit through the entire meal and behave perfectly like her older cousins. But, young children have a short attention span and cannot sit still for long. As they grow, this ability increases.

Tune in to your child's needs. Things go better when parents act as their child's ally instead of fighting them to behave. It is best to read your child's signs and try to help. He may be bored, hungry or tired. Handing him an apple, even though no one is eating yet, or taking him on your lap, may solve the problem. As you read the cues and intervene to help, things will go more smoothly. Also, keep in mind that every child develops differently. Try not to compare your child to other kids in the room, and focus on his comfort.

Talk to your family before the get-together. Explain your child's needs, and that she may have to leave the table after a short time. This will take some of the pressure off.

Be prepared. It is wise to bring along drawing materials, books or small toys to occupy your child at the table. It will help him to sit a little longer. It is also helpful to pack a video in case he is too revved up to sit with you.

Discuss issues away from the table. If your child is acting up at the table, take your child into another room to talk about the problem. Dealing with your child in front of relatives who might be judgmental, is not an easy task. This will free you to resolve situations in a way that makes you comfortable.

Prepare your child in advance of the meal. Talk about the holiday meal and what your child can expect.   Then coach her on how to behave. For instance, you can tell her, “If someone offers you something you do not like to eat, just say, ‘No thank you.’” Use role playing to practice other tricky scenarios. As you practice these interactions you will reinforce positive behavioral choices that you would like your child to make.

Involve your child in the meal. Children are more likely to be interested in an adult activity, if they have a special role. You might have your child make some decorations or place mats to put on the table. He can also help you prepare a special dish for the meal. His contributions will become a major topic of conversation, give him the sense of belonging, and raise his interest in being there. You can also encourage the family to make the meal more fun by singing, telling the holiday stories or having the children perform. 

As your child grows, she will have a longer attention span and better impulse control. Her language and cognitive skills will be more developed too. Before you know it, she will enjoy talking to the family and listening to the stories and will become a full participant in the festivities.