It’s the most wonderful time of year for many of us, but there’s no denying Christmas is especially magical for young children. And adults who get to experience it through the eyes of a child once again! But as sure as sprouts are sprouts, with children around your Christmas cheer is bound to be challenged at times. All you can do is prepare for the chaos, and try to turn some of those potential disasters into festive successes…

How to survive Christmas with a toddler

Advent calendars

With advent well and truly upon us, chances are you are already having the only-one-chocolate-a-day battle. Or maybe this daily row is the least of your worries. From handmade creations manhandled by grubby toddlers to beautiful paper scenes ripped by eager hands, children never seem to respect the advent tradition in the way they should.

On the other hand, it’s a wonderful way to get them excited about the big day. So, instead of rushing to open a surprise in the morning, make it an afternoon or pre-bedtime treat and sit down together to talk about the meaning behind the calendar door. Book advent calendars are another way to make advent extra special! Select some fantastic books – they can be ones you already have or new books – wrap them up and let your child open one every day for you to read together. This is a great way to create some wonderful calming moments within the December madness.

Decorating the tree

Whether you enjoy picking out a real Christmas tree or have a perfectly decorated version ready to come out of its box, the moment the tree goes up usually kick-starts the arrival of Christmas. But little ones are not known for their decoration appreciation, and with small folk running around you’ve got the added risk of a Christmas tree tumble – not to mention the extra cleaning required by perilous pine needles and ripped tinsel!

So how can you turn this potential hazard into a festive success? One easy win is to make sure your tree is positioned out of reach of little hands, perhaps on top of a sideboard or table. It’ll still look lovely but there’s less risk of it being pulled down. And when it comes to decoration, choose toddler-friendly accessories that won’t shatter if they drop. Wooden decorations are good, as well as being much better for the environment. Let them put a bauble or two on the tree, too so they feel involved – you can always turn the messy side round later.

Gifts

Choosing gifts for toddlers can be a struggle. They’ll either want something very specific, or they won’t care about anything except the paper (which younger ones will most likely try to put in their mouth). Still, Christmas is about giving, and the first time you receive a present from your child is a special moment. Even if an adult helped them choose it (perhaps especially if an adult helped them choose it!)

Christmas gifting also offers incentives for keeping children on the straight and narrow – as much as that’s possible, anyway. Whether it’s reminding them about Father Christmas and his naughty list or asking them to think about what a specific person might like to receive, gifts can be used to encourage festive thoughtfulness… as well as making great bribes.

Visiting Father Christmas

Traipsing to a local Santa’s Grotto is a rite of passage for parents as well as children. But with COVID-19 that probably won’t be an option this year. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your view), there’s a workaround – children can meet Santa Claus or Mrs Claus or an elf over a video call with Santa’s Calling You. All you'll need to do is pick a date and time, put aside 10 minutes of your day and download Zoom.

If the experience is more trial than triumph though – i.e. the doorbell goes, the dog starts barking, someone has a meltdown – comfort yourself with the knowledge that you didn’t have to queue up in the cold or in a chaotic shopping centre. And you'll all be able to laugh in the years to come at the awkward screenshot photo or recording of your conversation with the North Pole.

Christmas Eve

The advent chocolate has been eaten, the carols have been sung and you’ve left a mince pie out for Santa. The night before Christmas is finally here! Now you just have to settle your excited toddler. Easier said than done, and when you’ve got presents to wrap and food preparation to finish it can be frustrating having to run up and down the stairs to get them to go to bed.

But we all understand the excitement of Christmas Eve, and if ever there was a night to stay with your child until they sleep, this is it. Read them a festive story, sing a Christmas hymn, and then enjoy a festive tipple once they’ve nodded off.

Christmas dinner

Christmas Day can be exhausting. The joy of watching your child open their presents and then sitting down to enjoy some time together can turn sour if naps are missed and lunch is late. Routines are important for toddlers, and messing with them can cause a whole heap of trouble. Often this comes out at the dinner table when sprouts are refused and turkey is thrown as hapless adults try gamely to enjoy a mouthful of their own food.

There are a couple of ways to turn mealtime tantrums around. The easiest is to keep to their routine as much as possible, even if that means eating at a child-friendly time. If that’s not possible, just embrace the chaos, and if your child is kicking off over dinner, take them away for a sleep or a cuddle. Christmas is about family, after all, so do what’s best for yours.

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