Thanksgiving is a pretty fantastic holiday. You get to spend quality time with your loved ones, you’re allowed to watch football guilt-free and you’re more or less obligated to stuff your face with turkey, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. I mean, who wouldn’t love it?
Your toddler, that’s who.
Toddlers, as cute as they are, aren’t always the most pleasant, grateful or rational party guests. And you’ll need a well-thought-out plan for dealing with them and keeping bad behavior at bay on the big day. Here are 9 strategies to do just that.
Prepare your toddler for the big day. Despite the fact that they often seem erratic and occasionally completely insane, toddlers are creatures of habit. Any deviation from the norm and things can get tense. Temper the unknown by talking through the day’s schedule — from dressing up and seeing the cousins to eating a special dinner — discussing what you’re thankful for, and reading books about the holiday. A little mental preparation can go a long way for even the youngest toddlers.
Pack your child’s regular snacks. Fact: The turkey is never ready on time, and kids get cranky when they’re hungry. Hell, adults get cranky, too. Ward off potential tantrums by keeping your little one’s belly filled with his favorite comfort foods. And no, that’s not mashed potatoes and stuffing. We’re likely talking string cheese and Goldfish for the three-and-under set.
Bring a backup meal. I’m about to state the obvious, but here goes: Toddlers are picky. You might worry that it’s offensive to bring your own food when your hosts have slaved over an amazing spread. But it’s more offensive when that lovely meal is ruined by ear-piercing shrieks that vacillate between anger and starvation. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just quietly put the food in your host’s fridge and break it out only if your child refuses to eat the holiday meal set in front of him.
Let it go. Even with the best-laid plans in place, sometimes toddlers just won’t cooperate. Yours might eat more pecan pie than peas or outright refuse to eat the turkey. And that’s OK. It’s just one day. You know what Elsa would say in this scenario. Lord knows you’ve had to sit through Frozen enough times.
Have a nap plan. Ideally, your toddler will sleep at home before you leave or in the car on the way to your destination, but he doesn’t get any rest, you need to plan his sleep as strategically as a military operation. Make sure to ask your host ahead of time if there’s a quiet place that your child will be able to rest, and bring a pack and play. Also, don’t forget the stroller, since you might need to get your child out of the house and away from the excitement before he’ll close those tired little eyes.
Keep your toddler happily occupied. Catching up and gossiping with family and friends may be fascinating to you, but to a toddler? It’s probably a lot like Charlie Brown and the gang listening to their teacher. And unless your host’s family has children the same age as yours and there are lots of toys for him to play with, it’s a recipe for toddler boredom…and subsequent acting out. Work some mom magic by packing a special, surprise bag of toys. Include some favorites and a few small, inexpensive new ones (say, a coloring book, a mini Lego set or a doll).
Move low-lying breakable objects out of toddler reach. I know, I know, it’s not your house. Exactly. It’s not your house. The last thing that you want to do is let your toddler destroy someone else’s valuables…or worse, end up at the ER after shattering the beautiful crystal bowl on the coffee table. Don’t go overboard with it — you don’t want to be that guest — but if there’s something that you’re particularly worried about, take action. Ask your host if it’s OK to move the offending object, or swipe it out of the way as your toddler barrels past it and say, “Close call!” Something tells me you won’t get any arguments when you move it.
Bring a change of clothes. Or two. Get that Instagram-worthy shot before you leave the house, because all bets are off when you get to your destination. You’ll have to contend with the cranberry sauce and the gravy, as well as potential diaper issues, which always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times and while in the most adorable of outfits.
Acknowledge the holiday stress. You may think that you’re picture-perfect and happy-go-lucky and all that jazz on a holiday, but the reality is, you’re a basket case. That’s because you want to have the perfect day but know very well that you’ll have to deal with family drama, potential parenting judgment and your own childhood triggers. Kids can smell your fear, no matter how well you think you’re hiding it, and they’ll react in kind. So take a deep breath and count to four, as Daniel Tiger would say, and let it all roll off your back for the sake of your little one…and your sanity.
About the author: Dawn Yanek is a pop-culture and parenting expert, and the founder of Momsanity.com. She has worked as an on-air spokesperson for Life & Style Weekly and Match.com, a contributor for ESPN2’s Cold Pizza and a relationships columnist for Stuff magazine. Her writing on parenting has also been featured on What the Flicka? and BonBon Break. She is the proud mother of two adorable kids and one crazy Pomapoo, all of whom share her obsessive love of ’80s music.