Children are very energy-efficient. If they feel that they’re getting lots of attention for something – be it a negative or a positive behaviour – they’re hardwired to keep doing it again and again.
All attention is good attention to a child, and as soon as they notice they are in control of a situation they will naturally exploit it. So firstly, it’s important not to feed their attention by losing your temper or lecturing them for getting over-excited. When children are excited, a part of their brain called the prefrontal cortex is incapable of assimilating and understanding information, no matter how rationally you explain it.
"In my home we have established a code. We say ‘uh oh’ when something’s not right with a given behaviour. The children equate the term ‘uh oh’ with something not being OK, but in a nice way."
Secondly, as always, prevention is better than cure. If you have children over the age of three, it’s a really good idea to hold regular family meetings in the weeks leading to Christmas. The purpose of these meetings is to clarify what the typical behavioural pitfalls of the festive season are. It’s an opportunity for you to calmly sit down as a family and explain the effect that their over-excited behaviour has on you as a parent and the family as a whole.
It is also a chance for you to come up with solutions for tackling it together. For example, you can explain that it makes it really difficult for mummy and daddy to do all the things that they need to do, to make sure Christmas runs smoothly and is a fun and enjoyable time for everyone when they are running around screaming. And then pose the question, “What can we do about that?” Children like problem-solving and will more often than not work with you to establish a solution. It is also a way of giving them back some control.
For example, in my home we have established a code. We say ‘uh oh’ when something’s not right with a given behaviour. The children equate the term ‘uh oh’ with something not being OK, but in a nice way. We don’t get angry, we don’t lecture them, we just say ‘uh oh’. The children have now started associating this code word ‘uh oh’ with unacceptable behaviour, and are able to self-regulate their behaviour without being told off by us or by losing their temper.
It’s crucial to have these family meetings and establish codes with the children when they are not in an over-excited state because by then it’s too late. Finally, and it sounds obvious, but try to make sure children are not over tired or hungry during the festive period. These factors can hugely influence a child’s mood and willingness to comply.