Parents | Raising readers & learners.

Home of Parent & Child Magazine

Scare Away the Special-Occasion Sugar High

Try these tactics for preventing (or coping with) less-than-special behavior on special days.

Learning Benefits

Whether it's the chaos-inducing combination of Halloween candy, costumes, and carousing, or the can't-sit-still anticipation of a birthday party or grandparent's visit, some events are guaranteed to send your child's excitement level skyrocketing. While kids' natural exuberance is one of their best qualities, exhilaration overload can make it tough for them to strike a balance between having fun and melting down. Here's how to help your child get the most enjoyment — and least stress — from special occasions:

Prepare for a Special Day
The best way to ready your child: Talk about the special event in advance. Initiate several conversations to give small doses of information about what's going to happen and what behavior you expect.

Giving your child a verbal preview can help alleviate anxiety. After all, we adults know that gory Halloween costumes are just pretend and meeting Santa at the mall is all in fun. But for kids, who don't have the benefit of years of experience, even things they're excited about can be intimidating.

Keep Your Cool 
Once you've laid the groundwork, try these tips to make the big day go smoothly:

  • Stick to routines as much as possible. Special events can throw off your schedule, but aim to maintain your child's regular mealtimes, bedtime, and wake-up time when feasible.
  • When routines and rules must be broken, be up-front about it. If going to a relative's house for Thanksgiving dinner means your child will miss his normal bedtime, let him know beforehand.
  • Watch what they're eating.  Monitor what your child is noshing, and try to keep her diet as healthful as possible. Load her up on whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies when you can, to keep her blood sugar stable and leave less room for junk.
  • Help your child brainstorm ways to manage his behavior. At school, your child might want to sit near the teacher during circle time or away from friends who can tempt him into trouble, for example.
  • Talk to your child's teacher. If you suspect that your child's excitement will affect his classroom conduct, give his teacher a heads-up.
  • Lend a hand in the classroom. Certain days — Halloween, the last day of school before spring break — tend to bring out the excitement in all kids. By volunteering in the classroom, you'll be helping your own student, her classmates, and the teacher.
  • Find acceptable ways to expend energy. For some kids, a calming activity like drawing a welcome sign for eagerly awaited guests is best. In other cases, physical activity is a smart way to let off steam.
  • Keep your cool. It can be tempting to match your child's raised voice or heightened emotions, but resist. A better strategy: use simple language to let him know you understand how he's feeling. Say, "You're upset. Being upset doesn't feel good. Let's figure out how we can help you feel better."
  • Know when to take a break. If, despite your preventive best efforts, your child has a meltdown at a party or other event, make a beeline for the nearest exit. The idea isn't to punish her but to help her regain control. For some kids, this time-out may be all they need to be able to return to the party and behave appropriately. For others, that meltdown is a signal that it's time to cut your losses and head out the door. You're the best judge of which strategy is right for your child.

Remember, special occasions don't come along every day. For better or worse, it'll all be over soon. That mantra may help you savor the good moments — and quickly forget the bad ones.

Find Just-Right Books

The Reading Toolkit