Let’s talk holiday decorating! Toddler and pet friendly decorating to be specific.
Disclaimer #1… This post is totally NOT about baking. There, I said it, it’s out in the open. After a few years of trying to balance putting up enough holiday decorations to keep my oldest feeling happy and festive (she pretty much gets as excited for holiday decorating as Will Ferrell does in Elf – I kid you not) while not having any of the decor broken or destroyed by (or worse yet, hurting) her younger sister, I’ve found a few tips and tricks I thought I would share. With my oldest I just limited everything during those toddler years, which is certainly easy, but I’ve had to come up with better ways. My youngest is 2.5, and has quite a few developmental delays, so we probably need toddler proofing a bit longer than some.
Disclaimer #2… I am not a decorator. Hey, I warned you. Unfortunately House of Smiths this is not. I wish!
Disclaimer #3… Yes, I do believe in teaching my child limits and that she is not allowed to touch every thing in the house. That worked great with my oldest child. With my youngest having developmental delays (but great gross motor skills), it doesn’t work quite the same way. If you can decorate with fragile antique ornaments and your toddler respects the limits you’ve set and doesn’t touch anything, great, that’s awesome that it works for you. I’m all about you doing what works for you, me doing what works for me, and us respecting each other. Parenting is hard – so I’m all about being supportive of each other and not criticizing what others do.
Disclaimer #4… Most importantly, I am not a safety expert. This is simply what we do that works for us, with our fake tree and adult supervision. I won’t say these are excellent ideas, I will just say that these are our ideas, and if something from them works for you, then glad to help. I a NOT a professional (or anything more than for my own family) baby or pet proofer. Keeping it real folks. So no using one of these with your kiddo who is a master climber than coming back and getting mad that he climbed to the top of the tree, broke your precious heirloom ornaments, than fell on all the gifts. Take from this what might work for you and make it YOUR OWN. Okay, with those out of the way, let’s talk holiday decorating with a toddler around.
FENCING THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Let’s start with my first trick that I am now using for the third year. The tree in the corner with the faux-gift fence. I have found that by far the easiest way to toddler proof the tree is to start by putting it in the corner, right there you have a few walls working with you. But you still have a lot of open tree real estate. For that I use what I call the “gift fence”. Because large baby gate/fences aren’t usually inexpensive, I found my own solution. I get some giant boxes (if you do all of your shopping on Amazon, this is easy, as they always send boxes about 4 times too big). I fill the boxes with heavy items. I usually fill them with items and clothes that we want to go donate before the end of the year, and sometimes fill them with decor items that I take down to make room for Christmas decor. You can use books. You can use bricks. You can use anything, you just want to make that box heavy. Now, before I go any further, if you have a climber, this is probably going to be a very bad horrible idea, so word to the wise.
I wrap the boxes in the gigantic roles of wrapping paper that I find at Hobby Lobby. I get them half off, which usually makes them about $4, and I think you could wrap your entire house in one roll. They are actually very decent quality given the price and how much you get. After I wrap them, I go over every seam with clear packing tape so that they can’t be picked at and unwrapped. Now, if you are like me, you can let these be “mystery gifts” and your older kids will be all kinds of excited, until they open them and realize what’s in them – but I have a kid with my same sense of humor, so that type of thing amuses her versus traumatizes her. These giant heavy boxes look pretty, and allow the gifts that are stashed behind them to stay safe. It also keeps little ones from getting too deep of a grab at the tree. All that said, for some people an actual baby gate or Christmas tree fence might be a better option. If so, I like this fence, we used it for our tree one year and have used it for many other things over the years.
DECORATING THE TREE WITH KIDS
When it comes to decorating the tree itself, this year we went from the halfway point up. It’s not an ideal look, but it is a sanity saver. We also have traded in all of our wire and metal hooks for ribbon ornament hangers. Much more toddler friendly if she does get an ornament. I purchased mine at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Target or Walmart. Crate and Barrel also has had some in the past and Kmart shows some online this year.
*2015 update – now that my youngest is a little older, I still use the ribbon hangers, but I also like these rounded style hooks. They are a much better option for us than the old school little hangers. Ornaments stay on them better and while still made of wire they don’t have the ends being curled under helps a lot.
I am ALL about shatterproof ornaments. We also avoid hanging glass or breakable ornaments on the tree. Even if they are up high, something can always happen. I also cover the tree in a LOT of bells. Enough bells that if little hands find their way into the tree, I can hear it immediately. Make sure you get a jumbo size bell that will not be a choking hazard if your little ones are in that “let’s taste the ornaments” phase. I should add that while it’s on a hook for the photo, it’s actually on a ribbon hanger now. It was a photo opp type of thing.
Shatter proof ornaments are a great option for filling in the tree. Each year there seem to be more shatter proof ornaments available, and they keep looking better and better.
Now that’s all fine and dandy, but if you are like my family, you have many ornaments with a lot of sentimental value that may be breakable, fragile and/or old, that you want to display. I still have half a dozen ornaments from my childhood that I simply can’t imagine not seeing on holidays, and they are very fragile. So, we have to come up with display options. There are a wide variety of ornament trees and ornament displays. Now, for some longer ornaments, they may not work, but for the most part I think these are an awesome idea.
And there is this cool option, which I know my daughter is going to flip for when it arrives. Check out this awesome ornament chandelier.
Lots of great options. Want another option that is cheap? We have hung a small rope like ribbon across the top of our bookcase, and use it to hang ornaments on. Now, I have learned that you can’t go too heavy, but for small and light ornaments, this is a great way to display them up high away from the little ones. Word of caution, don’t hang breakable ornaments this way, just in case! My husband put the rope up with heavy duty clear packing tape.
Which brings me to my next decorating topic. Displaying other holiday items – up high. We do not have a fireplace or mantel, so I don’t get to join in on all the fun mantel decorating, but I do put a lot of my decorations onto the upper shelves of our bookcase. And again, I am not a decorator, those decorating blogs have nothing to worry about here! 😉
The two glittery frames are from Hobby Lobby and with a 50% off sale were $9.99 each. You can also download the printables that I have in them from my free printable page.
So basically my philosophy is get things UP. And do not leave out items that can be used as ladders if you have climbers.
I am however someone who likes to have many things that are “okay” for my little one to touch and play with. For this reason I have a lot of stuffed holiday animals. No decorating awards here, but she can play with them, carry them around, and I just put them back at the end of the day. No, they aren’t the cutest, but I have to say, I look at them now and remember my first carrying some of them around at the holidays, and that sentimental value goes a long way.
A much cuter option are the Bearington Holiday Bears which are in this year’s “holiday tote we can not seem to find” at our house so I don’t have a photo. Grrrr. oh Santa and Mrs. Claus bears, where are you??? But here is an example, love these little guys. I even have stands for them.
I adore the play felt Christmas trees that I’ve been seeing all over Pinterest. Not only can these look cute, but they can be fun for the kids to decorate. Mine is at more of a “deconstruct” than decorate stage, but I may have to do this next year, even if it’s just me that decorates it. Check this one out at Johnny In A Dress.
And this one – oh my – darling. I’ve seen it all over Pinterest as “Emma’s Advent Tree” and THINK this is the original source. Unfortunately it’s not in English, so if anyone wants to translate!
I also let my older daughter have a mini tabletop tree in her room. She has a pink tabletop tree (I think she’d prefer a blue one!) but pink is awesome as we leave it up through Easter, letting it be both a Valentine’s Tree and an Easter Tree. Here it is in her only child days and then in her big sister room. This lets her have a tree she can decorate as she pleases, and it is safely away from her sister’s curious little hands. I have a lot of days where I realize that being the sibling of a kiddo with special needs probably isn’t an easy, or always fair, road, so I try to give her as many little things like this as I can, so that not everything has to be changed to accommodate her sister. Well, that and I’m just totally down with a little pink tree.
I also have a tree of my own that I have up in the dining room. We have our dining room and kitchen gated off so that our little one doesn’t have free run of those areas (mainly so that I can let the dogs eat in peace and safety!). This is my little white and bright tree that I copied from all of the cute trees I would see at Disneyland and Downtown Disney during out trips there at Christmas. I stare at it while I bake and work in the kitchen, and it just makes me happy. Even though it is safely separated from my little one, it has only non glass (aka plastic) ornaments on it, just to be safe. I also have a few other items that I put up in the dining room and kitchen – all high above her little hands.
I hope these ideas can help someone who is looking for ways to baby proof or toddler proof their Christmas trees. I would LOVE to hear any other ideas or suggestions that anyone has to share!