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
As we head toward Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, I wanted to share some of the wonderful ideas I’ve been gathering about making gratitude and giving a standard of daily living along with a celebrated part of the holidays. Some of these ideas are ones we’ve done in our family for years, and some are new ideas I’m excited to try out!
1.) I believe the best way to raise generous, empathetic human beings is by being a generous, empathetic human being. So the first and most simple idea is just to live what we want our children to learn. If we want our children to be kind, we need to treat them and everyone else kindly. If we want them to be thankful, we should thank them regularly for the things they do and the blessings the are to us and to the world and let them see us being thankful for our own blessings. If we want them to be generous, we need to share what we have freely with them and let them see us giving to others. And if we want them to have the desire to serve, we must meet their needs fully so they will be free from focusing on trying to get their own needs met, and we should let them see us serving others on a regular basis.
2.) I absolutely love the idea of painting ‘Blessing Stones’ and scattering them around town for people to find. They don’t serve any specific purpose, and you’ll probably never know if they’ve been found. They’re simply a little blessing to brighten someone’s day unexpectedly. Your children can stamp or write words or even Bible verses on smooth stones, or they can paint hearts or smiley faces on them. You can even pray over the stones with your children first if you like, then simply take a walk around town and let your little ones ’hide’ the rocks. What a fun way to share some smiles!
3.) Another idea I fell in love with was ‘Blessing Bags.’ The idea is to fill gallon sized ziploc bags with essentials such as soap, deodorant, toothpaste, a toothbrush, etc. and add in a water bottle and granola bar and whatever else you think someone in need might find helpful, then keep the bags in your car to give out whenever you come across anyone in need. Also, clicking on the ‘Blessing Bag’ pictured will take you to Kids With A Vision, a site filled with year-round ideas for helping children use their natural empathy to help others. Love it!
4.) Operation Christmas Child is a family favorite in our home. Every year we fill shoeboxes with small toys, pads of paper, coloring books, crayons, and more for children across the globe. It’s a wonderful Christmas tradition and a beautiful way of keeping the spirit of giving at the center of our celebrations.
5.) Another fun tradition that helps all of us to focus on giving during the holidays is playing ‘Secret Santa.’ I buy dollar store items for each of my children to open before bedtime on the twelve days leading up to Christmas, and they also get twelve dollars to spend on each other for ‘Secret Santa’ gifts. The joy and excitement they get from making each other happy is so touching and a great sibling bonding experience, too!
6.) Nursing Home Elves~Many years we’ve gone Christmas caroling at local nursing homes and have always been warmly welcomed by the residents and staff alike. We always bring homemade gifts like cookies, ornaments, or Christmas cards which are a labor of love from my children that bring tears to the eyes of the sweet elderly residents who receive them.
7.) We’ve also participated in special service opportunities such as passing out flyers in our local Christmas parade to help raise funds for a baby in need of a liver transplant and serving dinner to the families of terminally ill children at the Give Kids the World Village in a nearby city.
What are some ways your family focuses on giving during the holidays or year round?
St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission. Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.
I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.
When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way…with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? How would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a pedantic lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?
And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them yes, because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.
I believe in Santa Claus because I am Santa Claus…and you are, too!
Note: I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t…” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if…”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given! Manipulating my children into ‘performing’ might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise works-driven Christians, or am I trying to teach my little people about the incredible gift of grace?
Here are some of the ways we focus on Jesus for Christmas:
Children learn best and most happily through play, so letting my little people ‘play Santa’ (i.e. wrapping up their toys and ’surprising’ each other, making ornaments and delivering them to a nursing home, shopping at the dollar store for Operation Christmas Child, etc.) is a very important part of our Christmas traditions. And the best part is…they’re playing Santa for Jesus!
Leading up to Christmas, we marvel about how Jesus loves us so much He wants us to get presents on His birthday (truly awe-inspiring to children and a lesson in sacrificial giving!) because all He wants for His birthday are smiles and happy hearts.
Then we brainstorm ways to give Jesus as many ‘birthday presents’ as possible (a lesson on generosity). We work together to share Christmas cheer with everyone we meet, but focus our best efforts on the grumpiest people because they don’t smile as often and so their smiles make really special gifts for Jesus (a lesson on unconditional love!).
We have a 12 Days of Christmas tradition where everyone gets a small present (chocolate, a special pencil, etc), and we read Christmas picturebooks every evening, building excitement for the Christmas morning celebration of the BEST GIFT EVER!
On Christmas Eve, we go to a special church service and then, after celebrating Christmas with family, we go home and make a fire in the fireplace (in Florida weather!) and make s’mores and hot chocolate and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.
Then, on Christmas morning, we have a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party before opening presents, complete with a birthday cake and candles and singing ‘Happy birthday to Jesus!’
Here are some other resources on making the true meaning of Christmas central to your celebrations this year (I’ll be adding more as I find them!):
What traditions does your family have to keep Christ in Christmas? Share them in the comment section!