How to childproof your holiday?

Mum, dad and toddler sitting next to a Christmas tree
Photo credit: Pexels

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere! I love this time of year, but I have been putting a hold on holiday decorations. To be honest, I’m a little nervous. This is our first Christmas with a very active toddler in the house. I know for a fact that holiday décor and children don’t go well together. Tree, garlands, sparkly lights, so many colorful and shiny things to explore. Now that my son is familiar with almost everything in the house, I can already imagine how interested he will be with these novelties!

So, the big question is how can I balance a festive home with keeping my toddler safe, healthy, and happy? Since this is all new to me, I did a lot of research and came up with this survival guide. I want to share it with you so that you too, can make the most of the season!

1 Pick a tree

Let’s start with the Christmas tree, the endless source of fascination for little ones. Whether you pick a natural tree or an artificial one, follow these tips.

Natural tree

  • Find the freshest, greenest one possible. Do the tap test. If the tree loses lots of needles when tapped on the ground, move on.
  • Make sure the tree is in a sturdy stand that’s suitable for its size.
  • Replenish the water regularly to keep the tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Place the tree away from any source of fire like the fireplace or heater.

Artificial tree

In my home country, artificial trees are the norm. They’re convenient since they can be reused year after year, which can save lots of money. What I didn’t know though until I prepared this guide is that there are health concerns associated with these trees. Read this article to learn more.

The majority of artificial trees are made using a plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead, which is used to stabilize PVC. The lead in the trees breaks down over time and forms lead dust. These particles are released into the air and can cause health issues, especially in young children.

Take the following precautions to reduce your family’s exposure to lead:

  • Take the tree out of the box and air it outside when you first purchase it, as PVC releases more gases when it is first exposed to air.
  • PVC releases gases as it degrades. Consider purchasing a new tree if you have used your old tree for many Christmases.
  • Wash your hands after touching the tree and the light cords.
  • If you are hunting for a new tree, look for one made of polyethylene (PE) instead. These are safer types of plastic.
  • After putting the tree, vacuum thoroughly or damp mop the floor.

2 Secure the tree

A tipping tree is a legitimate fear. Many children get hurt by pulling the tree down on themselves. To avoid tip-over and ensure your child’s safety, consider the following:

  • Anchor the tree to the wall with a strap.
  • Add weight to the base of the tree. You can use sandbags, or bricks.

3 Block access to the tree

To prevent small kids from reaching up and grabbing lights, ornaments, or other things from the tree, you can block access. How?

Create a barrier with large boxes

Stack a few heavy boxes disguised as presents in front of the tree. Make sure they are high enough, so your toddler won’t be tempted to climb. It’s pretty and functional.

Use your gate

If you don’t want to bother with making the pretty present packages and you already have a wide baby gate, use it to block access. It’s not pretty, but hey, it serves the purpose.

4 Skip the drama altogether

Want to skip the tree drama altogether and go for a stress-free holiday season? Check out the below solutions.

Go for a tabletop tree

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Adopt the 2D tree

2D Christmas tree decorated by father and daughter
Photo caption: Pexels

Go minimalist

Minimalist Christmas tree
Photo credit: Pexels

5 Use bells

Silence is golden unless you have a toddler. In that case, silence is very, very suspicious. Hang bells on the lower branches of your Christmas tree. This way you can hear when your little one is admiring the tree too closely. Every time a bell rings, your toddler is most probably up to no good.

6 Take care of decorations and ornaments

Decorations and ornaments can appear to be great toys to curious little minds. You can still engage in the festivity, but just be sensible when you decorate:

  • Pack away antique or breakable ornaments until your child is older. If you decide to keep them, place them higher than your child’s reach on the top branches of the tree. Make sure there are no chairs or climbable objects near the tree.
  • Skip decorative ornaments that resemble candy or food.
  • Inspect decorations for any loose parts or sharp edges.
  • Lie on the floor to see if there is anything on your child’s level that may be hazardous and within her reach.
  • Be especially cautious of any length of string on your tree that is 12 inches (30 cm) or longer. Strangulation hazard.
  • If you’re going to place ornaments low, opt for ribbon hangers rather than the metal hooks, which can injure your toddler who puts things in his mouth.
  • Less is more with décor. Pick your favorite décor and display it out of reach. Less décor will translate to less stress and allow you to relax and better enjoy the holiday season.

7 Mind the lights and electricity

  • Check that all electric cords and plugs are safe and out of your child’s reach. Read this article on babyproofing everything electric.
  • Make sure your Christmas lights are shatterproof.

8 Check your child’s gifts

As a parent, you know how to buy appropriate toys for your child, but friends and relatives don’t necessarily. For example, they might just assume that the recommended age label is only a suggestion. To keep those gifts fun and safe, follow the below tips:

  • Tactfully steer gift-givers to toys geared to your child’s age. If they ask you for recommendations or ideas, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a little guidance. You can even prepare a wish list if that’s the custom in your culture.
  • Before handing the toys over to your child, read the instructions carefully and inspect the toys for:
    • Small parts that could present a choking hazard for oral explorers: Anything smaller than 1.25 inches in diameter (3.2 cm) and 2.25 inches (5.7 cm) long.
    • Strings that could present a strangulation hazard: Anything shorter than 12 inches (30 cm).
    • Lids on batteries. Those should screw into place. Read about the danger of button batteries here.
    • Tiny magnets. Read about the danger of magnets here.
  • Keep toys meant for older children away from younger ones.
  • After you open the gifts, immediately discard paper, ribbons, bows, and packaging material. Those could become choking and suffocating hazards.
  • Save any gift that is not age-appropriate for your child for later or exchange it, if possible.
  • If you are having any doubts about a toy’s safety, check for recalls if the registry is available in your country.

9 Poinsettias and other Christmas plants

Until I put together this guide, I had no idea that some common Christmas flora can be a big no-no for children. Some of them are common in the Levant and Gulf regions and some are more western. Let’s have a look at them:

Poinsettias

They have big, bright, red leaves. While they are inviting to your little child, they are not poisonous to humans if ingested (contrary to the myth). If your child eats quite a few leaves, it might upset her stomach. Poinsettias can, however, make some pets sick.

Holly berries

They have prickly leaves and red berries. Holly berries are poisonous to humans and pets and should be kept out of your child’s reach. Better yet, skip them altogether this season. Read this article for more info. Beware that the fake ones pose a choking hazard.

Mistletoe

They are very famous in western culture. People hang mistletoe on their doorways and kiss underneath it. They have green leaves and small white or translucent berries. They can be extremely poisonous to humans. Better not use them for decoration; if you decide to hang a mistletoe on your doorway anyway, make sure it’s well secured and won’t be knocked to the floor where a pet or a child could happen upon it.

Read this article on why people hang mistletoe at Christmas, and kiss beneath it.

10 Prevent fire

To prevent turning your holiday into a nightmare, follow these tips:

  • Unplug the tree before you go to bed and when you leave the house to save energy and not worry about anything catching fire.
  • Place candles away from flammable materials and out of reach of children. Never leave them unattended. If you are interested in the look without the actual flame, go for faux candles.
  • Mind the fireplace or any other source of heat.

11 Bonus tips

I threw in some bonus tips, because we all need some extra help.

Holiday tablecloths

Simple things like tablecloths and runners in reach of a child can prove to be dangerous. Little hands can pull them and bring down plates, flower arrangements, and candles on the floor and top of their heads.

Bowls of nuts and candies

Nuts and candies are particularly enticing to young children but can be choking hazards. Keep them out of reach.

Guests and deliveries

With all the guests visiting and the many deliveries, it is easy to forget to lock the door behind you. Keep your child and pets safe by closing and locking your doors securely.

Gifts

If your child is particularly curious, don’t store gifts under the tree until shortly before opening. This includes adult gifts, which can conceal lots of potential poisons, including cosmetics, perfume and alcohol.

Conclusion

I hope you found these tips helpful to replace some holiday safety-worries with big-time holiday cheers! Remember your supervision is always the best safety approach.

If you’ve discovered some other tips and tricks, we want to hear about them in the comments below.

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