What do you get when you cross a curious toddler and a Christmas tree covered with glittering, dangling ‘toys’ and enticing, shiny lights? At the very least, a season of toddler chasing and redirecting, and at the worst a season of shattered-glass hazards and tree-scaling, toppling nightmares. So what’s a parent to do? Must we scrap the tree so we can have a merry Christmas while we have little ones in the house? Not at all! Here is an Advent list with a twist…24 Christmas safety tips for parents with tiny people who love to explore:
1.) A Christmas tree plopped down right in the middle of a child’s playspace (i.e. family room, living room, den) is just too much temptation for any little person, so one solution is to place the tree in a lesser-used room such as a study or office or even a covered porch where the tree can be seen but is less accessible to little explorers.
2.) Another option is to place the Christmas tree in a play yard like the one pictured to keep the tree safe while still having it in a central location in the house for everyone to enjoy.
3.) A tabletop tree is also an option. Keep the tree away from the edges and watch out for dangling tree skirts and light cords so little hands can’t pull the tree down on top of little heads.
4.) For some families (like ours!) who have lots of little ones toddling around year after year, a child-proof tree may be the answer. We used fishline to anchor our tree to the ceiling after one tiny climber toppled the tree over on herself a few times, and non-breakable ornaments (homemade ornaments are great alternatives) tied to the tree with ribbons instead of metal hooks (choking hazard!) are the solution to our current little spelunker who loves to crawl under the Christmas tree and lay looking up at the sparkling lights from her little hidey-hole.
5.) Be sure to check that your artificial tree is fire-rated or your real tree is fresh (i.e. easily bendable branches, no dropping needles) and keep your real tree well-watered to reduce fire danger.
6.) Always check lights for broken, loose, or missing bulbs, and make sure wires aren’t frayed and sockets aren’t cracked. Turn lights off when leaving your home or going to bed.
7.) For outdoor lighting/decorating, be sure to use extension cords rated for outdoor use, and don’t overload the outlet by stringing together more lights than the instructions allow. Elevate cords to avoid them sitting in water or on dry leaves. Have lights on a timer or turn lights out when leaving your home or going to bed.
8.) When decorating, place figurines and keepsakes out of reach of little hands to avoid constantly chasing giggling toddlers who find your reaction to their snatch-and-run game a great source of holiday entertainment.
9.) Avoid decorating with real holly or mistletoe in areas accessible to small children, as both are toxic if eaten.
10.) Never decorate your tree with candles, and keep candles separated from pine branches on tabletops and mantles by placing them in deep glass votives. Never leave a small child alone in a room with a burning candle.
11.) Keep snow sprays out of reach as they can be toxic if inhaled and can cause injury if sprayed into eyes.
12.) When entertaining, keep hot plates away from the edges of tables and remind guests not to leave hot or alcoholic beverages within reach of small children.
13.) House guests may not be used to having small children around, so be extra vigilant about medicine bottles, unattended purses, open luggage, and other dangers that may visit along with your guests.
14.) When purchasing gifts, check labels for age recommendations. Keep in mind that even if you think a little one is advanced enough to enjoy a toy that is recommended for an older child, the toy may contain choking hazards or other dangers to a small child.
15.) Unless you like wrapping presents over and over and…well, you get the picture, avoid setting wrapped packages out under the tree if the tree is accessible to small children. Keeping your expectations in line with your child’s developmental stage is a key element to avoiding conflict in your parent/child relationship and making your holidays less stressful and more enjoyable!
16.) In the flurry of gift opening on Christmas morning, small objects from ripped open packages (like the 423 little plastic tabs to hold a $5 rattle in a cardboard box!) can end up scattered amongst the toys and boxes and paper, creating a sea of choking hazards. Keep a big box handy to throw packaging and wrapping paper into, and choose one or two toys to remove from their packaging for immediate play while putting the other opened presents away in another box to be opened later.
17.) Never let children throw wrapping paper into the fireplace, as this can cause a dangerous flash fire.
18.) Keep a close watch on your little one’s diet throughout the holidays. In the busyness of the season, nutrition often takes a backseat to convenience, and an overload of junk foods and sweets can cause tummy aches and crankiness which won’t help them or you to have a jolly holiday.
19.) Another nutritional danger of the season is unintentional weaning. If you’re nursing a little one, the constant changes in schedule, the busyness, the stress, and the baby being passed from one relative to another can result in missed feedings and reduced milk supply. Making a conscious effort to take regular nursing breaks in a quiet room with your little nursling will give both of you a chance to reconnect and de-stress a bit and keep your nursing relationship intact.
20.) Also, be very aware of your little one’s sleep patterns during the holiday season. All of the disturbances mentioned in #19 can wreak havoc on a small child’s sleep schedule and, along with the almost inevitable over-stimulation of the music, lights, and visitors, that can make the holidays a miserable time for a little person.
21.) Fireplaces should be regularly inspected to prevent chimney fires, and protective fire-screens and/or baby gates should be used to keep little ones safe.
22.) Space heaters are a well-known fire hazard. Make sure you are using them according to the manufacturer’s specifications and that they are in good working order. Never leave a small child unattended in a room with a space heater.
23.) Keep in mind that, while you know and love those visiting relatives your little one has never met, expecting a small child to instantly let a person who is a total stranger to them hold and kiss and play with them is unrealistic. If we want our children to exercise restraint and caution with random strangers at the park/mall/etc., we need to allow them to set limits they are comfortable with when it comes to physical contact and interaction with the ‘strangers’ in our homes, as well.
24.) And, last but certainly not least, while pictures of their little ones with Santa may be every parent’s heart’s desire, small children often don’t share that desire. Instead of forcing your child to sit in a strange man’s lap (not exactly a precedent we want to set for our children!), if your child isn’t comfortable with the idea, get creative and try getting pictures of your toddler standing near Santa while he plays peek-a-boo with them or try kneeling on one knee next to Santa, yourself, with your little one on your other knee. You never know, those pictures may end up being your all-time favorites!
More ideas about how to make the holiday season fun-filled and meaningful, as well as keeping the joy and wonder of childhood alive for your little ones year round:
The Spirit of Christmas… The Great Santa Claus Debate
Making gratitude and generosity a standard of life… 7 Tips and Traditions to Make Giving a Standard of Living
The Reason for the Season… Celebrating Jesus with a Santa Claus Christmas
A happy childhood sends a child into adulthood with a baggage of confidence and kindness instead of disillusionment and anger. 200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood
The human brain needs time to process, categorize, prioritize, analyze, and otherwise make sense of all of the trillions of bits of information that it receives each day. Non-structured playtime for children functions much like sleep does for adults, giving their brains the time and space they need to move short-term memory to long-term learning. 25 Reasons NOT to Keep Children Busy
In the world of a child wonders are as simple as sticks and sheets, leaves and books, boxes and giggles, and the promise in a rainy day. The Seven Wonders of the World of Childhood
Children who love to read…READ! Engaging children’s hearts in the wonder of reading instead of just training their minds in its mechanics. Raising Bookworms
From hitting to defiance to tantrums to testing the boundaries and more, here are gentle parenting tools, tips, and techniques…Practical Gentle Discipline
[Portions reprinted from Gentle Discipline: Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
“Although the evidence against spanking is in the form of correlations (not direct causal proof), the effect is more robust than for the correlations that have served as the basis for other public health interventions, such as secondhand smoke and cancer, exposure to lead and IQ scores in children, and exposure to asbestos and laryngeal cancer.” (Scientific America)
Yes, you read that right. There is less evidence linking secondhand smoke to cancer, lead exposure to developmental delays in children, and asbestos to cancer than there is of the short and long-term detrimental effects of spanking. Study after study has confirmed that spanking (not just physical abuse, but any physical act of correction-smacking, hitting, swatting, slapping, paddling, switching, etc.) is directly linked to greater aggression and other behavioral issues, impaired cognitive development, and increased risk of depression and anxiety in childhood as well as long-term mental issues in adulthood. (See research here) And yet the American public is still reluctant to dismiss the physical punishment of children as an option for parents and school systems.
It is not unusual for public opinion to evolve slowly. Until recent years husbands hitting their spouses in the US was considered “reasonable chastisement of wives” and “a private family matter” by the courts and by law enforcement even though it has technically been against the law in all fifty states for decades. Now domestic violence in the US is viewed with outrage and abusers with disdain.
While the tide is ever-so-slowly turning regarding public opinion of the physical punishment of children, in excess of 80% of Americans still believe spanking is a necessary part of raising a child according to a survey cited by a UN report. And in the 19 US states where corporal punishment is still legal in the public school system, wooden paddles are used on children as young as preschool, and parents’ permission and/or notification is not even required. By contrast, in every branch of the US military and in the US penal system, physical punishment has long been outlawed as it was deemed ‘cruel and unusual’ and a ’use of excessive force.’
Clearly there is a disconnect when it comes to physical punishment of the most vulnerable and defenseless of our citizens, our children. Even in the face of study after study detailing the detrimental effects of physical punishment on young children, more than 90% of American parents still admit to spanking their toddlers and preschoolers. The responses to a recently released study linking a significantly increased risk of mental illness in adulthood to being spanked as a child point to some possible reasons for that dichotomy:
- ”I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, but why take the risk?
- “I don’t want to raise a rotten brat!” Studies link spanking to increased aggression and other behavioral issues, not decreased.
- “I spank my kids because the Bible commands me to.” Spanking is not one of the Ten Commandments. (See here)
- “They’re my kids, and nobody has the right to tell me how to raise them!” Our laws are civil agreements as to what is and is not acceptable in our society. We once agreed that slavery was acceptable. Now we know better, and our laws reflect that. As research continues to reveal the detrimental effects of spanking, public opinion will begin to shift and our laws will naturally follow suit. It is the way of a democratic society.
- ”Nothing else works!” Thoughtful, proactive parenting works. Here are some positive parenting ideas to try.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of parents not only deeply love their children, but are also making the best parenting decisions they know how to with the information and experiences they have to work with. That is why it is vital that the discussion and flow of information remain open and civil when it comes to spanking. Change does not come easily, but to happen at all it must have an atmosphere of honest, open communication in which to blossom.
[From The Gentle Parent: Discipline Tips, Tools, and Techniques by L.R.Knost available November 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon.]
Toddlers and preschoolers are still in the early stages of learning to communicate verbally. Add to that the fact that they have little-to-no impulse control and very immature social skills, and you’ve got a recipe for an instinctive physical response (i.e. hitting, kicking, biting, hair pulling, throwing things, etc.) to situations in which they are frustrated, angry, scared, or just tired and out-of-sorts.
Many parents who practice gentle discipline wonder where their little one picked up the behavior, not realizing that it is a normal and age-appropriate reaction, albeit an unacceptable one. Very often parents are advised to spank their child to train them not to hit others, especially those who are smaller and weaker than they are. (more…)
[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Your once fearless five-year-old suddenly refuses to leave your side at the park saying, “I’m afraid the birds will eat me,” while eyeing the tiny swallows hopping on the ground as if they’re evil geniuses plotting his demise.
Your three-year-old, whom you once found proudly grinning while sitting atop the refrigerator, has abruptly decided the swings are objects of abject terror that will, “Fly me to the ground.” (Translation: I’ll fall off!)
Your six-year-old who has slept like a log in his own bed for years is suddenly resisting bedtime and climbing into your bed with you at 3 am every. single. night.
Your happy little four-year-old suddenly becomes withdrawn and clingy, refusing to play with her playdate friends and wanting to sit in your lap. And, even worse, she’s started sucking her thumb again!
The preschool and early elementary school years are sometimes marred with exaggerated fears, odd anxieties, nightmares, night terrors, and other evidences of insecurity that can make the most confident of parents feel a combination of dismay, frustration, worry, and failure. Regression is a common accompaniment, from pottying accidents to night-waking to thumb-sucking. Often, acting-out behaviors also increase in this time period.
So, what in the world is going on?
No, it’s not an environmental-toxin-induced, super-early-onset of adolescent-hormone-overload. And, normally, it’s not a trauma-reaction to life changes such as moving or starting preschool or school, though those events can exacerbate the issue. (Be aware that these behaviors can, rarely, indicate an anxiety disorder, stress-overload, or abuse. If you suspect any of these things may be causing your child’s behavior, seek a professional evaluation.)
Typically, though, sudden anxiety behaviors in preschool/early elementary aged children are simply another normal stage of development, an indication of cognitive growth. In other words, as odd as it sounds, fear can be a sign of maturity!
Children in the three to six-year-old age range (Keep in mind that this is a rough age estimate. Children are individuals, not pre-programmed robots!) are beginning to realize that their parents aren’t the all-powerful beings that they once believed them to be. This realization can be very uncomfortable for them, causing them a great deal of unease as they are concurrently beginning to realize that there is a whole, big, wide world beyond their safe, little home, and that that world is full of potential dangers, hazards unknown, and just a lot of really big, scary things.
So what is a parent to do with their newly timid little house-mouse?
First, be aware that there is no one-size-fits-all miracle ‘cure.’ You know your child better than anyone else, and being responsive to her unique needs means taking your cues from her as to what may help or hinder her journey through this uncomfortable stage.
That said, here are some ideas that may help:
- Before forcing your child to ‘face his fears,’ consider whether someone throwing a spider on you if you are deathly afraid of spiders or locking you in a closet if you’re claustrophobic would be helpful to you in overcoming your fears. If the answer is ‘NO!’ then honor your child’s feelings and move on to another solution.
- When your child voices her concerns, resist the urge to minimize them. If she says, “I’m afraid of monsters coming in my window,” try not to say, “There’s no such thing as monsters.” Remember, she’s realizing you aren’t all-powerful, and that means you aren’t all-knowing, either! Rather than be reassured by your words, she’ll simply think you don’t know about the monsters and can’t help her and keep her safe. Instead, you can brainstorm ideas together to keep the monsters at bay. While you don’t want to say that monsters actually do exist, you can say something like, “Let’s think of ways to keep you safe. What if daddy throws the monsters away in the trashcans outside and the trashman takes them away?” Don’t be afraid to be seriously silly. In other words, take her fears seriously, but offer silly solutions that offer visuals of the monsters (or whatever the fear is) going away forever.
- Help your child to make a ‘nightmare safe’ out of a shoe box. At night before he goes to bed, sit with him and encourage him to put all his scary thoughts in the box for you to take and keep safely away from him while he sleeps. Let him know that if he does have a bad dream, he can come to you even if it’s the middle of the night, and you’ll help him to put the scary dream in the box so he’ll be able to go back to sleep.
- Avoid phrases such as “You’re a big boy now” and “Only babies do that.” Focus instead on encouraging your child to do the things you know he can do. For instance, if he’s usually able to climb the ladder on the slide but gets ‘stuck’ halfway up and asks for help, start by moving near so he knows you are close and willing to help him if needed. Then verbally encourage him, “I know you can do it. I’m here if you need me.” But don’t pressure him. If he gets upset or insists he can’t do it, help him down. Remember, it isn’t really about the slide at all. It’s about seeking reassurance that you can still be trusted to take care of him, that he’s still safe with you.
- If the occasional monster in the closet or under the bed needs to be evicted, try reading a book like Go Away, Big Green Monster! and make your own ‘Monster-Away Spray,’ to send all the scary monsters packing. The ones we made didn’t match the colors in the book perfectly because we just used foam stickers and googlie eyes from our craft box and blue spray bottles from the bargain bin at the fabric store, but my girls were thrilled with them. We filled them with water (and added a little spritz of febreeze in my six-year-old’s bottle because, “Monsters can’t STAND flowers!”) and then Daddy and Big Brother took turns pretending to be monsters and ran away squealing from the girls when they got sprayed. Role-playing with children (and just playing with them, period!) is a powerful tool in helping them learn coping skills. Now, a bit of bedtime spritzing in closets and under beds is all it takes to make my girls feel confident that they’ve rousted the beasties so they can sleep in peace!
- If regression is an issue, keep in mind that your child is self-comforting by returning to a time she felt safe. Rather than punishing, ridiculing, bribing, or in other ways trying to ‘control’ the behavior, offer comfort in appropriate ways to demonstrate that she can trust you to meet her comfort/safety needs. This applies to acting-out behaviors, as well. Set boundaries, certainly, and provide plenty of guidance, but remember that punishment tends to push children farther away rather than connecting with them. Since your child is reacting to a feeling of disconnection from you in her new understanding of your non-superhero status, pushing her further away will merely exacerbate the issue, not solve it.
- Just listen. This is the simplest solution to a rather complex problem. Slow down and make time to just take a walk with your child. Sit with him in the evening and watch him color or play a quiet board game with him. Lay with him in his bed for a few minutes before he sleeps and chat about the day. Just the fact of you taking the time to focus on him, to be quiet with him, to enjoy his company, and to reconnect with him will go a long way towards soothing his fears.
- Even if your child isn’t introverted by nature, the following table offers some wonderful tips that translate well into this brief anxiety stage:
Remember, just like all the other stages of development, this ‘age of fear’ won’t last forever. Staying connected with your child and keeping the communication lines open through the ages and stages of development will help to ease their way as well as keeping your relationship strong and healthy.