How to Toddler Proof A Christmas Tree

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Originally published December 4, 2017 and updated November 20, 2020.

Children and Christmas go together like, well, Christmas and children. These tips on how to toddler-proof a Christmas tree are the secret to a happy holiday and safe ornaments.

While Christmas is all about children, the heirloom Christmas ornaments aren’t. As the mother of three and a parent educator, I figured out how to keep our tree decorated with toddlers in the house and still have a joyous Christmas. My precious, very breakable ornaments survived three toddlers (and 20+ military moves).

woman and child looking at Christmas tree with hand reaching for red Christmas ball ornament with title text reading Decorate a Christmas Tree to Survive a Toddler

My goal with each of my children was to maintain the magic and joy of Christmas while keeping my keepsake ornaments intact, too.

I did not want to scold my children for the entire month of December. I did want to enjoy our tree and ornaments and I did want my children to enjoy the tree, as well.

It really is possible to have a beautiful Christmas tree and a toddler at the same time. It takes just a bit of planning and a bit of work.

In addition to protecting your cherished ornaments from a toddler, you also want to carefully pack and store your ornaments.

How to Toddler Proof A Christmas Tree

Keep in mind that your goal this Christmas season is to:

  • Celebrate the magic of Christmas with your child and family.
  • Preserve family traditions.
  • Create new family traditions.
  • Teach your child boundaries and self-control. These are skills that take time to learn.
    • Understand that you will spend most of the month reinforcing lessons in self-control and boundaries. You won’t just tell your toddler once (or twice or three times). You’ll be working with your toddler all season long.
    • Realize that the sparkly, amazing tree just begs to be touched, explored and played with. It’s a huge temptation and you’ll be working to teach your child to resist that temptation. 

Examine Your Thoughts About Decorating the Tree – Determine your priorities for the holiday season and your Christmas tree. There’s not a right or wrong answer and your answer may be very different than my answer. What’s important is to determine your priorities prior to setting up your tree and toddler interaction. 

I have many precious ornaments, some that I’ve inherited and many from my many travels around the world (thanks to the military).  They’re not valuable, but they are priceless to me because they’re irreplaceable. While those ornaments are treasured, it was also important to me to create family traditions and memories with my children. I had to decide what was most important to me and how to balance these conflicting priorities. 

Red monogrammed ornament on Christmas tree with white snowflake ornaments nearby

Remove Truly Irreplaceable Ornaments – There are precious ornaments that you’d be sad if they were broken. But then there are some ornaments that if broken would truly devastate you. Save those for next year. While you’ll be setting boundaries this year with your toddler, it’s simply not worth risking your irreplaceable ornaments. Remember your child’s self-esteem and Christmas experience is even more valuable. Don’t risk damaging all three (your child’s self-esteem, the magic of Christmas and the ornament).

Remove Dangerous Ornaments – Don’t hang any ornaments that can shatter if they fall. Also, hang heavy ornaments on the lowest branches so they don’t fall on little feet. 

Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of ornaments. Really. But if you don’t, you can hang traditional  non-breakable decorations like paper ornaments and strings of popcorn and wood beads. You can also make these charming recycled laundry scoop ornaments. 

Let Your Child Explore the Tree Before It’s Decorated – Spend time with your child exploring the tree. Smell the pine scent if it’s a fresh tree. Touch the tree and the needles. Bend down and look at the tree trunk. Lift your child up and let them see how tall the tree is.  Once you’ve spent time exploring the tree together, explain that once the ornaments are on the tree “we only look at the tree with our eyes.” Allowing your toddler to thoroughly explore the tree is a great learning experience and will help fulfill the overwhelming desire to explore the magnetic new tree that appeared in the house. 

Designate One Child’s Ornament – Choose one unbreakable and visually exciting ornament to designate as your toddler’s ornament. This will be the one ornament that your child is allowed to touch. You can use an ornament you already have or purchase one specifically for this my-toddler-can-touch-this-ornament purpose. Select an ornament that will be exciting enough to be able to compete with all the other ornaments on the tree. So, just a plain plastic Christmas ball won’t cut it. Choose a character your child knows or a pretty (try sparkly) unbreakable ornament. 

Let Your Child Explore the Child’s Ornament – Sit with your child and let her explore her ornament. Talk about the color, the shape and any other features of the ornament. Let her hold the ornament as much as she’d like. Play up the fact that this is her ornament.

Hang the Child’s Ornament with Your Child – Once you feel like the fascination with his ornament has faded, take time and let your child hang her ornament on the tree. Hang her ornament in the front of the tree at a level that is easy for her to access. Once she’s hung the ornament, have her step back and admire it. This is the only ornament on the tree that she is allowed to touch. 

Practice How to Touch the Child’s Ornament – Show your toddler how he can gently touch the ornament. Have him try and encourage positive behavior. Rather than say, “No, don’t swing the ornament around the branch (which only makes you want to do it more), redirect him and say, “Touch your ornament gently like this.” Practice, practice, practice with your toddler.

Monitor Interactions with the Christmas Tree – Closely monitor your toddler when she’s in the room with the tree for the rest of the day. Closely monitor her the next day. Don’t ever leave your toddler unattended with the Christmas tree, but with practice the Christmas tree will be less of a temptation. 

Encourage Responsible Behavior – As you monitor his interactions with the Christmas tree, provide positive encouragement and redirection (rather than scolding) to help him learn to only touch his ornament when you are present to supervise. Your goal is to celebrate the magic of the season and teach your toddler self-control.

  • Positive Encouragement – “You’re touching that ornament so gently” or “You’re going a great job of looking with your eyes.”
  • Redirection – “Remember you can touch your ornament” or “Do you want to read a Christmas story right now?”

Lift Your Child to Admire the Top of the Tree – Several times a day, spend a few minutes with your child helping her to look at all the wonders of your Christmas tree. This will help her exercise self-control the rest of the day.

Enjoy the Holiday – Toddler-proofing your Christmas will take work. There’s no way around that. But keep in mind the priorities you set in step. As the mom of three now teens, I promise that in just a couple of years you’ll be plotting how to get your children to help you decorate the tree. 

Enjoy your Christmas season and celebrate the magic without (too much) worry now that you know how to toddler-proof your Christmas tree

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  1. Thank you for these suggestions! I had my toddler smash an ornament before work this morning 0_0. I’ll be implementing some of your techniques tomorrow šŸ™‚

  2. This came up at a recent MOPS meeting (I’m a mentor mom). Women wondered if they should stick to a tabletop tree, or one suggested a gate. I think you need to know your child and do whatever works. Some will listen and be patient and treat the tree with respect, while others may just be impulsive and want to climb it. There are many options for trees, so don’t feel you need to have a certain “look.” I love the way you incorporate time with the child learning how to relate to the tree… terrific idea!

    1. What a great point, Seana. You know your child and your own boundaries best. You should do what is best for your family. Thanks for the reminder.

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