According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Christmas is only slightly safer for kids than riding bikes no hands, eyes closed, on the roof. The AAP website has a three page list on avoiding flaming disaster in the living room. To be fair, their are some extra hazards in the season. However, my experience in Pediatric Emergency is less about Ralphie shooting out his eye with a Red Rider B.B. Gun, and more about toddlers chewing Christmas tree light bulbs.
Toddlers love putting brightly colored, shiny objects in their mouths. Decorative light bulbs have thin glass, easily cracked when bitten. Fortunately, the curious kids get only a few minor cuts in their mouths and quickly heal. Occasionally we see more traumatic ingestions when toddlers get a tiny bit of Christmas lodged in their airway or esophagus and need surgery for removal.
No matter how well your house is toddler-proofed, with cabinets locked and choking hazards swept away, Christmas undoes all that. It’s impossible to police boxes of decorations, toys with tiny pieces, things hanging off Christmas tree branches. Thus one more holiday stress: having to watch your cruising babies extra carefully with all that stuff around. Best advice: keep decoration ambitions small and manageable.
The next realistic Christmas safety worry is kids and dogs. Kids and dogs interact more during the holidays, either with new dogs as presents, or visiting friends and relatives with dogs. Trouble starts when kids want to meet the pooch, poochie gets nervous about approaching strangers, and bites them in the face. Best advice: don’t get a new dog until your children are 5 years-old, when they can learn to treat animals safely. Closely supervise interactions between your child and others’ pets.
Fires are another seasonal worry. The Christmas tree tradition started in Germany, with candles on them for illumination. My dad lived there in the 1950s and told of proud Germans who eschewed electric bulbs for old-fashioned candles, and the busy Fire Brigades racing from one tragic house fire to another. Even with electric bulbs, trees fires are possible. Trees dry out easily, are covered with flammable ornaments, kindled with paper wrapped gifts, and stand next to overloaded power sockets. Keep tree water filled, and unplug lights overnight.
Besides physical risks for kids at Christmas, the season is emotionally stressful. Parents get overwhelmed, and kids too. We’re looking for Peace On Earth and Good Will among men, yet find ourselves cutting each other off for parking spaces at the mall.
One source of stress is that during Christmas we are supposed to be happy, and are disappointed when the season isn’t any happier than usual. The disappointment is even more acute when we become less happy due to seasonal hassles.
The list of things that drag on us at Christmas continues: overeating, driving through traffic to shop in mad crowds, dragging decorations out, extra cooking. And while visiting family is usually a good time, you also visit some you don’t like (you moved so far away for a reason).
Kids get stressed too. They overeat, and eat too many things that cause stomach-aches. They stay up too late, and are exhausted the next day. They get sick- it’s the cold and flu season after all. And parents aren’t paying them enough attention because we’re too busy on a regular day, and adding a Christmas list makes that worse.
Besides the safety cautions from above, you need a strategy to minimize holiday hassles for you and your kids. Most importantly, keep it small. When it comes to decorations and shopping, small and tasteful beats big and garish. Make small amounts of special Christmas food and involve the kids when you do, so cooking becomes more of a positive for you both.
Second most important: keep the kids’ routine. Make bedtimes and meal times pretty normal. If things get chaotic, kids get more stressed. Again, make sure your kids are mostly eating a regular healhy diet. And like we say in almost every column in this series, everyone’s should wash hands- that’s the best prevention for illness.
Humorist Dave Barry wrote: “No matter how hectic it gets, you need to remember what the holidays are all about…exactly how much can you charge on your credit cards before going to jail?” Don’t be that Christmas parent; keeping it simpler equals Peace On Earth.