How To Reduce Power Struggles and Find More Happiness In The Holiday Season

How To Reduce Power Struggles and Find More Happiness In The Holiday Season

A store cashier asked my daughter recently, “Are you being a good girl for Santa?”  And then a few minutes later in the parking garage an elderly couple asked her same question. After a quick smile she turned to me.  Her face was all twisted up, eyes looking far away with a hint of overwhelm.

The holiday season puts so much focus on children being good. Well-behaved. Picture Perfect.

The Elves are reporting.  And Santa is checking his list… twice.  Having well behaved kids is a top priority for many families.

And that this is one of the very reasons that many families experience an increase in power struggles and temper trantrums this time of year.

Children are expected to be happy,  grateful, cheerful and just like those elves in the workshop, very, very helpful. Sharing and being good are a full time requirement – and while it’s ok to wish for things, lists better be reasonable. Even if stores know just how to make those toys look irrisistable.

No bad days for children allowed during the holidays.

With so much focus on children’s behaviors and pressure to create a magical holiday tears, tantrums and power struggles are bound to show up. Because most people, and especially children don’t enjoy working under constant pressure.

And it does’t have to be that way.

There is a pressure free a way to help children WANT to and be ABLE to behave well during the holiday season.

A way that actually brings magic and happiness into homes. 

holiday positive parenting

 That Magic comes from focusing on connection and encouragement instead of behavior management.

Here are four ways to reduce power struggles and tears during the holiday and bring more connection into your home:

1. Know That Limits Will Be Tested

One thousand Pokemon card packs, six more cookies before dinner and staying up three more hours all sound wonderful to a child. As the responsible adult, you might know better – but your child is going to dream and test limits (in December and beyond!) because it’s a normal and healthy part of growing up…Strive to remember that you and your child may not see things the way you do.

Power struggles are more likely to show up when we only think of our own needs and forget to validate our child’s point of view. So Focus on working together and not against eachother. 

2. Slow before you say NO

So you know your child might push those limits and ask for a lot. The next step is to set limits on those requests. There is a way to set limits that helps children actually feel ready and able to follow our guidance.  That way is to slow before you say No or Connect before you Correct (From Positive Discipline).

Slowing down before setting a limit might sound like “Wow that is such a nice building set. I bet you would love to play with it! What tools do you like?…I see. Thanks for telling me. And today I am not going to buy it.”


Go ahead and set those limits – just remember to connect before you correct your child – this builds trust and opens space for listening. 

3. Use Kind and Clear words

Another part of reducing power struggles is being sure to be clear and kind at the same time.

Setting limits with kindess is not only respectful, it also creates connection and trust all while making it clear that your decision has been made.  (BONUS…Kind and clear words also work all the year through.)

So, “I know you like the cookies, they sure are tasty. And two cookies is enough for one day.” is much kinder and respectful than “Do you think Santa wants to hear you have been crying about cookies?”.

And  “The timer on your screen time rang, I bet you are having fund AND it’s time to move on to a new activitiy.” will validate and acknowledge what your child is doing and feeling and help her move to another activity much fast than “I’m going to tell Santa you aren’t listening to me!”

Here are more examples for what setting limits in a kind and clear way may sound like: 

  • Being clear about gifts: “I bet you would love a hundred gifts..I would too. How wonderful that we each get a few!”
  • Being clear about sleep: “After dinner and getting ready for bed, I am happy to read you three book and then it’s time to sleep.”
  • Being clear about sweets: “You can choose any TWO treats. I see it all looks so very good. I understand you wish you could have more.  And you CAN have two.”

The more we can empathize with our children and voice their wishes back to them the more they feel understood and listened to. This is often enough to create the kind of connection needed to stop a power struggle and side step tantrums.


3. Make Time to Transition

There may be that moment when your child just feels completely overwhelmed with the input from stores, parties or events. It may be overwhelming to deal with arriving or leaving places. If this is the case, try to empathize with the frustration and accept that some tears may just need to flow in order for the upset to pass.

If a lot of tears and tantrums are happening every time you are out and about surrounding toys and treats it may be helpful to review your own expectations and your child’s needs before the next outing.

Also, It’s ok to do less. The magic of the holidays is often found in ordinary moments, together as a family.

4.  Don’t forget the power of encouragement  

An excellent way to avoid power struggles and tantrums is to move the focus from misbehavior to connection and encouragement. Sometimes, we can focus too much on what is not working. And then we mistakenly invite feelings of blame, anxiety and other disconecting emotions from our children.

Focusing on the good helps children feel and behave well.

Notice the all the good things your child has been doing, a smile, a helpful hand there. Encouraging words are much more likely to invite cooperation than correcting unwantted behaviors.

Don’t forget to make time for laughing together and listening to each other.

Encouragement brings cooperation.  Connection makes the holiday season magical.  Simple moments make the biggest difference. 

Try playing “Hi & Low’s of the day” or making a pinbord that displays photos and quotes from your special moments. Read holiday stories, cook together. All these activities improve communication and lead to a very special family bond during such a special time of year.

Peace & Be Well,
Ariadne Brill

parenting library free resources

Related Reading

Cyber Santa vs. Real Santa?  by Susan Newman, Ph.D

3 Ingredients to Cure the Toddler Sleep Holiday Hangover by Alanna McGinn Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

12 Responses to How To Reduce Power Struggles and Find More Happiness In The Holiday Season

  1. I like this post!

    Question to #2: What happens after “today I am not going to buy it” – the child asks WHY NOT? Will you buy it TOMORROW? 😉

    What I like to do when we’re at the toy store and my son LOVES a million things, we take pictures so we may revisit his wishes and prioritize later.

  2. It’s so easy to be snarky to my kids when they whine. I hear my parents’ voice when it happens, too. I always feel horrible when I see how it makes them feel. I’ve been working hard over the past year to catch myself before it comes and I think having a backup reply that is respectful, the echos their desires, is sooooo helpful. They really do feel heard and understood even if they are still upset in the end and I feel better about myself and my parenting by realizing how much I’d been adding to the problem with my old approach!

  3. My daughter is only 15 month this christmas holiday so she doesnt really feel the “spirit” yet. This list will be a grate help next year though!

  4. This is such a great post, and comes at the perfect time of year. My son is 3 and is not particularly whiny about gifts that he wants for Christmas, although he knows how to push my buttons many times. I am not in favor if using the reasoning that ‘Santa is watching’, because if the motivation is entirely extrinsic, and focuses on the reward then how is the child to behave once Christmas is over? I like that you say “Its ok to do less” during the holidays. I tend to try to do many things, and have to slow down to remind myself that it’s living the little moments that makes Christmas time with family so special.

  5. Can you also write about how it’s not just kids that feel overwhelmed at this time of year? The sights/sounds/pressures of the season are affecting me too. It gets to be too much! Knowing our own limits is good to keep our own emotions in check.

  6. With the Holidays approaching I´m becoming more stressed about our kids´ behavior. We usually travel to our homeland and their grandparents are giving them the feeling they are extraordinary in some way. And our kids can feel it and behave quite extraordinarily – in a bad way (including tantrums) 🙁 How can I manage this?

  7. Stacy, you bring up a really valid point….Apparently we are all supposed to be joyous, but the holidays can be so very demanding on parents. I am a firm believer in slowing down and not buying into attempting to please others just because it’s December… Feel free to say “NO thank you!” when too much is too much and remember that the ordinary, kind, sweet moments tend to be what we all remember most !!

  8. Shinta – your reflection on extrinsic motivation and how a child is to behave after Christmas is gold! The wonderful thing about relationship based discipline is exactly that, it works year round, from tots to teens 🙂 🙂

  9. Hi Tamara,

    Great question! I think answering the “why not” part would depend on the child and how the day is going. I know with one of my kids I could get away with smiling and saying “oh ask me again tomorrow!! maybe I will say yes, wink wink wink” and they would giggle and we could move on. With another of mine I might have to say “let’s put this on your wish list and keep our fingers crossed it shows up under the tree. I hear you really, really, like really love this thing!!” Your idea of taking pictures is fantastic. I often encourage parents to keep running wish lists that children can manage all year – it gives children a good way to delay gratification while still feeling like their requests are being validated 🙂

  10. Hi Hanka,
    traveling with children to visit family can be stressful, especially with young children. I would highly recommend keeping some of the ideas in this post in mind, like slowing down before you say no and setting clear limits. If you have a routine at home, try to build a similar routine even while away. Tend to any tantrums with loving kindness to listen to your child while keeping whatever limits you need to set firmly in place. Additionally, children are very clever and can understand what exceptions are so if you must gently bend some rules at the grandparents home just explain to the children “OK here at Grandmothers house you may…” and once home get back to your limits. This is a fun way to build memories and special moments without losing site of your family values. I hope that helps.

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