Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Decorations and Infant/Toddler Safety

As if being a parent wasn't joyful enough (well, most days), here come the holidays. It's this time of year that makes being a parent feel like a miracle...your little one, eyes all aglow, cookies, Santa...ahhhhh. It may be part of the reason you started a family, after all. If this will be your first holiday season with a mobile baby (creeping or crawling) or toddler, there may be a few things you haven't taken the time to consider when getting ready to decorate your home. We all have items we use year after year, including lights, ornaments, candles and the like...and each and every one can pose a danger to your young child. Here are some tips and ideas to keep your holiday festive while maintaining a safe living area for your little one.

I'll speak from personal experience here, folks. When my daughter was one, she didn't give the lights on the tree a second thought. She liked looking at them, but I guess it never occurred to her to touch them. Last year, we purchased a fabulous Martha Stewart pre-lit tree from KMart. How wonderful, I daughter, now two, won't have to listen to me cuss while I try to get the lights on perfectly. And I'll save time! Great! Well, I DID save time...and the tree looked so pretty. Two days after putting it up, we left the living room for a grand total of 2 minutes to get our dinner plates ready...and when we came back, she had 25 bulbs pulled out of their sockets and, to my horror, five or so were broken. Needless to say, I freaked out completely...I really had never thought that she would be clever enough to get them loose...heck, I barely can! She had them sorted into piles by color, too. The monkey! We moved the tree (now lightless since if one goes they all go) into our hallway and wondered what the heck we were going to do. We couldn't have a Christmas tree that didn't have any type of lights at all...doing so seemed pointless to us. Suddenly, we thought of fiber optic trees...and lo and behold, WalMart had one for less than forty dollars! They're lit from beneath with a well-secured contained bulb and the 'fibers' throughout the tree glow in a variety of colors and speeds. The 'fibers' are made of plastic that is integrated with the tree limbs, and try as she might our daughter couldn't pull a single one off. Yes, it was an unusual thing to see...not traditional, and not a fresh pine that will scent your home beautifully, but it kept her safe for the season and stopped us from tearing out hair out. Like the Mastercard commercials say: PRICELESS!

Most families pass down and collect all sorts of ornaments. We carefully upack them to hang on the tree, and the process evokes strong feelings of nostalgia. They help us to maintain our connections to family members that are far away or have passed on, and provide us with tangible memories of Christmases gone by. When you have a child of your own, you can't wait to share this feeling...and the stories that go with each and every precious item. Some of us enjoy a Christmas so steeped in tradition that if the ornament is in a different spot on the tree we must relocate it so things remain the same. If you're lucky, you'll think of this before you start unpacking: what will your infant or toddler do to your very fragile memorabilia? Easily answered...they'll yank it off the tree, chew on it, throw it, give it to the dog, or drop it on the kitchen floor and it will shatter into a million pieces. So what's a parent to do?

First things ornaments are OUT if you have an infant or toddler that can access them on the tree. And that includes putting them up high and 'out of reach'! They break so easily, and if your little one happens to be chewing on the item when it shatters the results can be deadly if material is ingested. Cuts are a concern, as are eye injuries and choking on small parts. Yes, your Christmas may not seem the same if you don't use your 'regular' decorations on the tree...but many viable alternatives are readily available.

'Shatterproof' ornaments that are made of plastic but look just like glass can be found in most big box stores and are very one will know but you, honestly. Also look for resin or vinyl ornaments that don't have any small parts...they're just perfect and come in many adorable styles. When hanging your ornaments, opt for ribbon or string instead of metal hangers...the metal is very dangerous and can lead to a variety of injuries. Another great idea for toddlers (infants may put paper in their mouths, so it's not advisable for them) are paper chains and snowflakes...and so cheap to make! Yes, your tree may not be what you wanted this year...but your child will feel involved if he can handle the ornaments on it safely. Our three year old decorated the entire tree on her looks adorable, and she loved the entire process. We even let her put her small stuffed animals on it during the day.
Nothing is quite as lovely as candles at Christmas...but if you have a little one wandering around, they should never be used. After the kids are in bed, fine...but lit candles and small children are NEVER a good combination. Burns,'s just not worth the risk. You'll have plenty of time to use them together in a few years, so compromise now and either leave them out of reach unlit or keep them in storage. Try a few fiber optic solutions if you feel the lighting is necessary, but don't substitute electric items with bulbs that can be removed.

When you have children, your life changes in ways you could have never imagined...and the holidays are but one example. Though you may enjoy tradition and Christmas may not feel the same to you if you don't decorate like you used to, keep in mind that the holiday is designed for all of us to enjoy but its main focus is children. And it's your job as a parent to keep the children as safe as possible, isn't it? Plus, if your decorations are child friendly, you won't have to spend any time yelling and drooling like a mad person trying to keep the kids away from them. Less stress will make your holiday much more me. I learned the hard way!

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