By Mary Gibson
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, y’all. Chilly weather, hot cocoa, mittens, scarves, twinkly lights, a warm feeling in your heart . . . . and a warm feeling in your home as your toddler knocks over your festive candles, setting your heirloom tablecloth ablaze while you have your back turned for only five seconds to dish up another cup of eggnog.
Let’s face it, as parents of crawlers, toddlers, and general mischief-makers, we have a love/hate relationship with holiday decorating. Some of you may have fresh bundles of joy who pose zero threat to shiny baubles and bells, and some of you may even possess a strange and rare toddler who is more than happy to simply gaze at all the new things contentedly. For those of you gifted with this precious, unicorn child, decorate away!
For the rest of us, however, let’s look at some ways to make holiday decorating toddler-friendly.
- Oh, Christmas Tree, Oh, Christmas Tree
Ah, yes. The Christmas tree. For many of us, the Christmas tree is the be-all, end-all of holiday decorating; for many toddlers it is the ultimate challenge. From branches and needles to ornaments and lights, there are endless ways for a little one to make mischief with a Christmas tree. To prevent this, you can always use the tried and true blockade method. A baby gate, a wall of large presents, or even the tree-in-a-play-yard gimmick can prevent a disaster.
You could also get creative with the entire “Christmas tree” concept. What about a miniature tree on a tall table this year, or a small forest of mini trees on the mantle? Take it one step further and hang a small tree from the ceiling! Turn it into a toddler-friendly game by tacking a felt tree to the wall and letting them decorate it over and over and over again. And if you can’t stomach the idea of messing with tradition, either be prepared for lots of instruction, correction, and vigilant surveillance, or skip the tree all together this year.
- Silver and Gold, Silver and Gold
Holiday decorations are special. They are beautiful and unique and dear to our hearts. They are also new and exciting to a child, and if that child has not yet learned the concept of looking with his eyes and not with his hands then they also provide far too many opportunities to break and damage things. Note how far your little one can stretch his fingers while on his tiptoes, add six inches, and keep everything above that invisible line. Consider the temptation of shiny wrapping paper and bows and plan your gift storage accordingly. Do you have precious heirloom and keepsake decorations? Give them a kiss, pack them away, and save them for another year.
- Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
Fireplaces, candles, ovens, stoves, fireworks, oh my! The holidays provide a myriad of opportunities for a child to wreak havoc with flames. Always take proper precautions when using any of these items, and be extra cautious when young children are around. Never leave a child unattended with an open flame or a hot stove—period.
- Marshmallow World
Babies and toddlers are like ninjas. Their tiny fingers manage to find every crumb you miss and shove it into an eager mouth before you can even see what went inside. With extra cookies and candies and goodies sitting out during the holiday season, be sure to keep things out of reach—and out of sight! Cookie jars, decorative tins (with hard-to-open lids), and a child-proofed pantry are your friend this year.
- All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth
Do you have a climber? Make sure there are no items he could use to scale the furniture or the kitchen counters. Children who have never attempted to climb might just be tempted to try when they see the shiny, new things arranged carefully on the sofa table, so it’s best to assume your little guy will climb no matter what. Pillows and blankets left out and about make excellent steps for a toddler, so keep them put away when not in use!
- I’ll Be Home for Christmas
You know, all of this would be easy to do if it was just your own family in your own home over the holidays, but that just isn’t the case for most of us. Either the relatives and friends will descend upon your abode, or you’ll be the ones doing the descending. In both cases, it’s unlikely that holiday childproofing will be perfect one hundred percent of the time. Encourage your guests to be mindful of their food, drinks, and gifts, and let them know about special considerations (for example, the fence of large presents in front of the tree that should not be moved under any circumstances). Call ahead to Grandma’s and make sure she has her tree protected and her beautiful glass nativity placed on a very high surface. Be prepared to give some extra grace to family members this year!
- Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
But, actually, don’t. When decorating with real trees, garlands, branches, and plants, make sure you aren’t putting out anything that is harmful to people (or pets). Small children can choke on needles and berries, saps can cause rashes, and some leaves and berries can even poison a child or pet. Holly and mistletoe are two no-no’s. Check a poison control index online before purchasing anything for your home.
And, truly, despite the tree fences, the constant "No, no, don't touch" choruses, and the parade of well-meaning aunts sneaking treats into eager little mouths, there's nothing quite like seeing Christmas through a child's eyes. Their wide-eyed wonder at the glowing lights and sparkling ornaments of a Christmas tree and their enthusiastic singing and dancing to a Christmas song you've heard 100 times too many reminds us that the holidays don't have to be an exhausting ordeal. They can be magical and warm, and all those little things we take for granted this time of year--a stick of jingle bells, a single snow flake, the constant Christmas music, bell ringers in front of the grocery store, putting sprinkles on a cookie--are brand new ways to enjoy some holiday fun with your little one.
Mary Beth Gibson graduated from Wichita State University in 2007 with a BA in Creative Writing and blogs at Bright Sycamore. She enjoys most things natural, but with a healthy dose of practicality and affordability. You can most likely find her wearing her toddler around Target as she hunts for great deals in the dollar bins. She lives in Kansas with her husband and 1-year old son.
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