Yes, let’s talk Christmas trees…… and toddlers.
A Christmas tree can be a big opportunity for your toddler, and dare I say, toddlers….. 🙆🏻♂️
I have some tips that might work for you and your family. But we know everyone’s home, lifestyle and needs can be wildly different. So feel free to use all of these, a couple of them, or to stretch and recreate them to meet you or your child’s needs.
Here is what I know about children and Christmas trees: they can suck together.
But here is what I also know: Christmas trees can be a way of supporting your child’s resilience, vocabulary, and boundaries. Not only just in your home, but in other people’s homes, and in places like the mall and grocery store.
Here is why:
The toddler years begin establishing the foundational formation of learner identities. Learner identities are ways we define ourselves about the different aspects of learning.
Things like…. “I don’t listen very well,” “I don’t usually know how to use things right,” “People don’t expect me to listen usually,” I learn differently than everyone else,” “People don’t expect the same things from me,” “I don’t have control,” “People are upset with me a lot.” “I’m a good listener,” “I am in control,” “I understand the world.”
Now… I don’t mean that the child thinks these things verbatim, sometimes they are even underlying beliefs about the self that don’t have a specific internal dialogue, but actions and behaviors instead. These identities form because what we have learned in the home begins to show up in the outer world, and how people react to what we have learned has some consistency. Some learner identities are positive, and some are negative. It’s ok to form some negative learning identities, it’s an organic part of growing and learning. But there is something incredibly powerful in caregivers consciously supporting the construction of learner identities. As they say though- choose your battles wisely.
Here are some questions to ask when deciding if something, or some aspect of your home is a good fit for supporting a positive learner identity:
1. Is it important to you? In other words, is this something that will consistently show up in your family life and activities?
2. Can you come up with keywords that describe your expectations? If you can’t…. it might just mean that this is something you can support when your child is a little older.
3. Is this the right time? Do you have the time and energy to support this consistently and lovingly? Sometimes the answer is simply no… we all know those times.
Now… back to toddlers and Christmas trees.
What identities do we have an opportunity to support with a Christmas tree?
1. I am a good listener
2. I am in control
3. People are pleased and impressed with my abilities, in all kinds of different places
4. I understand how things work
What do these learning identities look like in the world
1. When someone says to touch the tree softly or only touch a specific ornament, the child listens- USUALLY.
2. I want to touch the tree but I’m in control
3. I understand how the tree works like others around me do
4. The child gets positive feedback in many situations. Like at their kinda bitchy (I’m kidding!) aunt’s house where there is also a tree and everyone is so happy and excited with the child’s understanding. This reinforces all above identities. On the opposite side of this, if a child experiences frustration with their lack of understanding of how the tree works or how to interact with it negative learner identities can begin to form: I always do things that can frustrate people, I don’t care how it works, I don’t always listen, I don’t have control, I can’t. These are just examples of learning identities, but identities are far more unique and built with many aspects of life and family. But you get where I’m going..
Most importantly… learner identities are forming in so many aspects of a child’s life. If using the tree as an opportunity simply can’t work in your life right now… or feels literally like the most overwhelming thing EVER..don’t worry! You will have many opportunities, just pay attention and they will reveal themselves all year (I promise) when you choose one, stick with it.
Ok now how the heck do we use a Christmas Tree to help build positive learning identities?
1. Get your tree up early. I recommend an artificial tree for toddlers so it can be up earlier and because tree pieces won’t fall off, and it’s typically lighter in weight- but whatever you’re family does and loves, you can stick to that.
2. Allow your toddler to be around while setting up the tree and begin forming phrases that you will repeat about the tree. “Touch this softly” “step back” “it can fall so we are very careful”
3. Allow your child time with these phrases and expectations before putting ornaments on. Some might need 3-4 days, some a week or two.
4. Put lights on when you set up the tree and begin forming statements about what they can and can’t touch, and how. For instance touching the lights- no, but you can softly touch this branch. You can also do this with a a couple ornaments as your child may have zero interest in touching the lights.
5. When you decide to put ornaments on keep breakable/extremely fragile ornaments away until your toddler fully gets the Christmas tree game (when they are 25 years old. KIDDING). Mistakes will happen and are ok, and sometimes helpful to the learning process. On the bottom of the tree have a few ornaments your toddler can touch, and some (that are not dangerous) that they cannot. It’s also nice to add something that speaks to possibilities with touching others trees like “this ornament is just a one finger touch.” This will help weave boundaries into the Christmas tree experience- but boundaries that speak to, and understand your toddler’s INTENSE NEED TO TOUCH THIS DAMN TREE.
6. If you have other caregivers- go over your key phrases (that should always be the same) and what the toddler can touch on the tree and what they cannot and what items you are using to practice one finger touches.
7. Be sure your phrases come somewhat natural to you, be able to act them out (like step back, physically, for the term step back) and make sure your phrases will help your toddler with other trees. Merging of the outside world and home is where learner identities form.
8. Maybe this is the most important one… it certainly works in supporting your kids in figuring ALL kinds of weird things about this world: Invite them to touch the tree! Ask them to come over and show them how it works. In other words Don’t wait for them to make a mistake to practice playing with the tree.
Some phrases to toy with, grab from or create your own with:
“No you can’t touch this ornament, but yes you can touch this ornament 😚” (key term: yes you can touch this ornament)
“Be careful! It can fall and be an owie!” (Key terms: falls and owie)
“We touch the tree sooooo softly” (key term: sooo softly)
“Use one finger to touch this” (key term: one finger)
Lots of love,