Christmas is a magical time of year. There’s the hustle and bustle of going to see Santa or the Nutcracker ballet. There are family and friends to visit, get-togethers, work parties, and church parties to attend. Not to mention the goodies, the lights on the Christmas tree, and all the pretty packages waiting to be unwrapped. Christmas is toddler over-stimulation to the max. And many times helping toddlers survive Christmas becomes an all-consuming task. Here are a few ideas to help make Christmas more toddler friendly for everyone.
We can get really carried away with all the opportunities to do things during Christmas time. I know I’m guilty of this. One year, as I planned our Christmas count-down calendar, I had planned an adventure outside of the home every evening until Christmas Eve. We only lasted three night of this craziness before all of our Christmas cheer was used up. We were tired, grumpy, the house was a mess, and no one was going to stay on the good list if something didn’t change. So, most of the adventures were replaced with simple, family oriented-activities. I learned that one evening out each week prior to Christmas was enough to sample the wonderful plays, concerts, and experiences for my family. Also, by including family-oriented, home-based activities, not only did my toddler handle life better, but so did her siblings and parents. For more ideas about simplifying Christmas, check out this post.
Leave the heirloom ornaments off the tree
I love crystal ornaments. I love big glass balls, crystal stars and bells. I think the way the Christmas tree lights reflect off of these ornaments is amazingly beautiful. But, they aren’t on my Christmas tree. My tree is decked out in toilet paper roll craft projects, ribbon, and shatter-proof (read plastic) ornaments. There’s a very simple reason for this: the baby. If one of my toilet paper angels gets ripped off the tree, I’m not going to cry much. But if my great, great, grandmother’s (insert ornament here) shatters there’s going to be tears (and probably some loud and scary sounds). Toddlers are curious by nature and inspect new things with their eyes, mouths, and hands. Making the Christmas tree as friendly as possible will make its addition to the home environment much less stressful.
Make the Christmas tree approachable
I also include elements on the tree that my toddler can “play” with. This year we made some garland strands with jingle bells. They are strung vertically, and hung loosely. My baby loves to run up to the Christmas tree and jingle a strand of this garland and run back laughing. I’ve encouraged this behavior. And while I’ve let her investigate the other ornaments, I’ve reinforced her playing with the garland. She knows the garland is safe and fun to play with and the other ornaments aren’t as much fun to play with. This makes it so I’m not spending my day guarding the Christmas tree or saying “no” all the time – creating a much more pleasant atmosphere in the home.
Slow the gift opening
The final thing I’ve learned over the years is that easiest way to overstimulate any child, but especially a toddler, is to hand one brightly wrapped gift after another and demand it be opened. Everything goes much happier if the toddler is allowed time to explore the gift, even play with the gift before moving on. So, while older children will want to rip through the presents, we let the toddler take her time with each gift. We’ve also tried to help our other children explore their gifts too. Slowing the process down for the whole family makes for a greater appreciation of the gifts received. And it’s more satisfying to watch as the giver of the gifts too. If we need to, we’ll break for breakfast or a snack before continuing with the present opening. We don’t normally give great mounds of gifts – but opening the gifts slowly and appreciating each one helps our children stay more in control of themselves and makes the culminating activity of Christmas last longer.
Making sure to chill-lax, leaving the crystal ornaments off of the Christmas tree, making the Christmas tree approachable, and slowing the gift opening seem to create an atmosphere that allows our children, and especially our toddler, to stay in control and better behaved throughout the Christmas season.
How do you help your children cope with the stress and overstimulation of the Christmas season? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments below.