7 Ways to Make Christmas Easier and More Fun with Toddlers & Babies

The holidays can be a wonderful time to reunite with friends and family, celebrate another year’s passing, and to rejoice in what God has done.

It can also be a crazy time for little people. So much to see. So much to do. This is my 14th Christmas with a toddler in our midst. Rich times, to be sure.

Here are a few tricks we’ve learned to help our little people — and us — enjoy the season more.

Keep your routines

If at all possible, keep your routines the same during the holiday season. It may not be a big deal to you, but a wacky schedule can wreak havoc on your little people and their sense of peace. Whether you are at home or away, try to have regular naps and bedtimes.

Try to keep a few key practices as part of your daily routines. If you do a Morning or Evening High Five, keep those going to give stability to everyone. Have a few bedtime rituals that you keep even if you are out at parties and other events.

Stay home

That said, try not to drag your kids all over Kingdom Come. They’ll do better if they’re in calm, quiet surroundings. Be willing to say, “no,” to one too many Christmas parties or other holiday events.

But, feel free to invite people over, just try not to go overboard. Limit the number of guests so that your little ones are not overwhelmed.

Get a tabletop tree

We have had a tabletop tree for 10 of the past 13 years. Not only are they less expensive than larger trees, but by placing it on the table, you keep it away from curious hands. The few years we have had a full-size tree, the bottom half was devoid of ornaments, though not by design.

With a tabletop tree, you also reduce your chances of 6-ft trees crashing to the ground. Check out these other safety tips for a refresher.

This is probably our last year with a toddler and therefore, a pint-sized tree, but who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to it, anyway. It’s smaller, easier, and in keeping with old Christmas tree traditions.

Feed the tree with ice cubes

My mother started this tradition when I was a wee  lass. I grew up thinking everyone did this. But, no. Anyone I told raised his eyebrow in confusion.

Hand your kid a bucket of ice cubes to keep the tree watered. If they spill, it’s no big deal. And little people can help keep the tree fresh. The ice will melt — hopefully in the tree stand — and water the tree.

Paint your cookies with pastry brushes

Again, I have my brilliant mother to thank for this idea. We often decorated cut-out cookies when I was a child. Mom would place different colors of powered sugar frosting in the cups of a muffin tin and hand us brushes to decorate our cookies. So much easier than using knives.

I also recommend confining toddlers to their high chairs when this operation is underway. But, I bet you knew that already.

Avoid sugar overload

FishBoy13 lived a fairly sheltered life as our first born and our one and only for 3 1/2 years. We regularly limited his sugar. I was stunned the first time we let it get out of hand.

The child was a different creature due to a sugar overload. And I understood why they called it Kiddie Cocaine.

Lower the volume

Christmas can be noisy — if you let it. But, loud music, blaring tvs, and crying children do not a peaceful season make. Make an effort to keep noises low. I love Rachel’s ideas for creating personal filters, especially at holiday time.

Avoid the noises that will make your holiday less peaceful for you and your children.

Limit the presents

I know. What a killjoy! But, really, most kids don’t need half of the presents that they get at the holidays. And it’s all too easy for the stuff to get out of hand.

Not only does this get in the way of appreciating good things, but it also distracts your little people. Too many toys makes it hard for them to choose. It adds confusion to their minds.

Obviously, not all gift-giving is in your control. Grandparents have been known to go overboard. But, once the presents are opened and thank you’s are said, put a few away for another time and help your child play with one or two key items.

These are not fool-proof ways to have a happy holiday. But they do help.

What do YOU do to make Christmas easier with toddlers and babies?

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I hadn’t been in the Christmas mood for about seven years, since my father passed away, but now with a three-year old I’m slowly getting back into the spirit. The other day he said to me “Is Santa Claus coming to my house?” with a look on his face that just warmed my heart. I said, “Yes baby”, and now I’m really looking forward to making Christmas special for him. I’ve decided to put aside my sadness and my worry about doing things the”right way” and just enjoy the experience with him. Your tips will go a long way in helping. Thanks again.

    • @Carla, I’m sorry to hear about your father. The best advice I’d ever heard is to make holidays your own, and do what feels right for you in that particular year, especially if you’re grieving. But it’s wonderful how little ones bring the joy back into the season. :)

  2. We decided this year to forgo any traveling or guests. After hosting or traveling every other Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas in recent memory, we’ve decided to take one holiday and celebrate quietly in our home.

  3. When I wrap my son’s gifts I take everything out of the box or packaging that hinders immediate playtime and then wrap it up, even if it means wrapping pieces instead of one large box. I try to make it so that he can play with his new toys right away instead of waiting for an adult to deal with all the package ties, tape and millions of other things to get to the toy. Nothing is more annoying when you’re little then watching your parents “play” with your toys before you do.

  4. We have an 18 month old and a 4.5 year old this Christmas. When the older one was smaller we just put lights on the tree (we do have a big one) but after a year or two of it being more decorated he really wanted that kind of tree. So this year we have lights, about a dozen ornaments the older one hung and a paper chain around the tree. We made it as a family which killed an afternoon over the Thanksgiving break. Not only did this give our older son more ownership of decorating the Christmas tree but it’s very easy to repair if the toddler grabs it. That hasn’t happened so far but I’m trying not to count my chickens!

  5. Love the advice here! With a 6 y.o. a 2 y.o and a 7 month old, we are smack in the middle of the years you describe. We do many of the suggestions, especially with the tree. My 2 y.o is obsessed with the tree! Having said that, it is still fun to watch the wonder in their eyes when they understand finally what Christmas is all about. My 2 y.o. also loves any stories about the baby Jesus.

  6. We have seven children and 4 of them have been born during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Our first was born Dec. 21st, 3rd on Dec. 31st, 5th on Dec. 28th, and 7th on Nov. 19th. The 7th is a couple of weeks old. It is amazing how all those late year pregnancies have changed my views on Christmas. We’ve reduced gift giving substantially and learned that a quiet holiday season is far easier on all of us than running around frenetically. I sometimes feel a little guilty that our kids don’t have a billion presents (we try to get them 2 or 3 for Christmas, 2 for a birthday) but then I think about how easy it is for them to be overloaded. We also don’t buy gifts for people outside the family very often…most of our relatives have too much stuff anyway.

  7. Great tips! And the ice cube tip is an awesome idea for watering the tree!

  8. Thanks so much for the reminders. My husband and I have a four year old and 21 month old twins (boy/girl). It was nice to be reminded that less is more. I enjoy our routine but around this time of year it is sometimes hard to stick close to it. It does make a lot of difference.
    And, i love the cookie decorating idea. Hopefully, we will be trying that out this year :)

  9. I bet we all can think of several things toddlers should be confined to the highchair for : )

    I have so many fond memories of Christmas as a child and one of those is NOT being dragged here and there and everywhere. We spend every Christmas at HOME and it was absolutely wonderful!!

  10. I remember your ice cube trick from years ago and we still do this. Brilliant. Now, this year I’m going to try the muffin tin and paint brush thing for decorating the cookies.
    Love your ideas.

  11. We have 5 kids, the last two being 2 yr old twins. the year they were born we sent for very short visits to each grandparents house. Now that they are two the grandparents expect visits at christmas. christmas eve we have to be at one house, christmas day we have our own and two other grandparent houses. because of work schedules, ect we are looking at all 4 in a day and a half. any thoughts on how to make it easier. i try every year to schedule the grandparents the weekend before or after, or even the day after christmas, but no one is willing to give. how do you politly say no.
    i agree with the gifts being less, i usually request clothes, shoes, school supplies, usefull stuff like that as the grandparents always go way overboard:) savings bonds is another good one.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      We said NO very early on. You can read about that a little bit here.

      • @Jessica Fisher,

        I’m with Fishmama. Before we even had children, my husband and I set some guidelines regarding holidays. It doesn’t matter who is hosting a holiday, we stay home Christmas Day no matter what!

        • @Paula, We did this as well. Best advise we ever got while we were engaged! We decided before we got married to spend Christmas Day at our own house, every year, NO MATTER WHAT.

    • @lael, We have an open door policy after 11 am on Christmas day. If family want to come over they are welcome to once we have had our time together. We open presents and eat breakfast and read the Christmas story. And play of course!

  12. I have a 3 yr old and an 1 year old and on December 30th I will have my 3rd. We (my husband and I) come from divorced families so we have always lived with the craziness of going everywhere for the holidays. I put a stop to it with my first child and we only go to two Christmas (one on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas Day – late day) If anyone else wants to see us they have to come to us.

    The ones we do go to are huge with gifts. I bring a plastic tote for each kid (it also helps when I am transporting my gifts to the party) and after they open the gift it goes in the tote. Then they get one toy to play with while the adults mingle and open their gifts. A few days after Christmas I get all the toys out and have the kids take a picture with the presents. That goes with a thank you card. I started this on our first Christmas with a little one because he ripped into the gifts so fast I wasn’t sure who gave him what. This way everyone was thanked even if it was a tad general and they could see him with their gift.

    We also do what we call “heats” on my mom’s side. We have about 30 – 40 people in our family (and we see eachother only once a year. That is how I justify subjecting my family to the chaos) We start at 7pm with everyone under 3, then at 7:30 we go 3 to 6 and so on. The group that is up sits in the middle of the room and Santa hands them their gifts. The little ones are assisted by the parents who sit behind them (or another adult if there are more than 2 in that age range). That way the real little ones can go to bed at a decent hour while the adults (who open around 10 or 11 pm by the time we get to that age range) open their gifts.

  13. We have a six-foot tree on a low table (lower than the one in your picture). It’s a fake tree I’m allergic to real ones). This table is kept in the attic with the tree during the rest of the year (it’s just for the tree). The tree isstan is screwed TO the table, so it’s not going anywhere. No ornaments get hung on the bottom unless they are cloth (we have just a couple of those for the youngest child just to play with).

    We don’t put out any presents until after the children are asleep on ChristmasEve, because otherwise they will get opened early.

    We have 6 children 8 and under, and these things help us a lot.

  14. Our daughter just turned two so this is a really useful post for us right now. We’re still going to try the full-sized tree but will put only the non-fragile items below so it’s not such a big deal if she moves stuff around. And it’s always anchored to the wall since we have a big goofy Newfie in the house who tends to get overexcited about life.

    Keeping the number of gifts low and the guests in shifts is also a must. For our daughter’s birthday, she got tons of gifts from family. She was happy to play with the first two gifts for hours and we had to encourage her to open everything else. We should have just spaced out the opening instead over a few days :)

  15. What lovely tips.. We’ll be buying a new tree this year. And I really like your tabletop tree idea. We’ll be having quite a few kids over for Christmas dinner and a table top tree seems much safer.

  16. Great post! Another option for a safe Christmas tree is to put up some greenery garland and decorate it like a tree. That’s what we did this year (we have a 20mo). Here’s my blog post about it:
    http://samann1121.blogspot.com/2010/12/christmas-not-tree.html

  17. Some things we do in our home:

    Prior to birthdays/Christmas, we go through the toys and decide on items to donate. This makes room for new toys and helps children who are less fortunate than we are. There are too many lessons our child learns in the process to list here, but I am sure you get the idea!

    I like to keep the number of plastic/battery-operated toys to a minimum. This idea is completely new for both my and my husband’s family. To help them choose toys we prefer, I created an amazon wish list in our child’s name, which I update on occasion. There are many books on the list, but also toys that we approve of and think our child will enjoy, and clothing that he needs (the size is already chosen).

    We use ECHOage for birthdays – what a great organization! You sign up, create an invitation and email it to your guests. Guests can reply with a wish (in lieu of a paper card) and a donation (though it is of course not required). This means your guests don’t have to buy a gift, a card or wrapping paper!! No driving, no waste! In the meantime, you and/or your child chooses one of the charity organizations ECHOage has listed. A few days after the party date, they send a check for half the money raised by your party to the charity you chose and half the money to you. Then you choose/help your child choose 1 or 2 meaningful birthday gifts. The charity sends a receipt for your tax-deductible contribution. I love it!
    (and for those few stubborn relatives who don’t use the internet or think it’s unfair that our child doesn’t ‘have something to open’ at his party, well – he gets what he gets, and whether we like it or not, he will probably love it!)

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