How to Relinquish Control and Let your Kids Help Decorate for Christmas

I’m not exactly a control freak….although some people may beg to differ (Ahem, husband).

But I am one of those parents who has what you might call slight control issues….and I love decorating. I have strong opinions about decorating.  And holidays. Especially Christmas. And ornament placement. Which was fine, when my kids were younger, and content to just stare at the pretty decorations and perhaps try to eat them.  Now they are older and have their own opinions. They want to pick the color schemes. They want to place their favorite ornaments each year. They want to HELP, gosh darn it.

What’s a neurotic Christmas loving mama to do?

Every year, my friends joke about waiting for the kids to go to bed so they can “fix” all the decorations their kiddos helped with.  Rearranging and fluffing and covering up and filling in. Yeah, that would not fly in my house. I have kids who remember everything, who notice everything, and who suspect me of espionage at every turn.  No way could I get away with fixing their hot mess decorating….and really, even though partly it drives me crazy, a bigger part of me is filled with joy that they want to participate, that they love Christmas as much as I do, and that they are proud of their hard work. That part of me wins every year, and we have at least one hot mess tree- EVERY. YEAR.

In our family, we are lucky enough that I have found two big artificial Christmas trees for free, and the kids have their own tiny trees in their rooms.  So they get to decorate their own mini trees, and they get to pick the theme of the Kid tree which usually goes in our office/kid area. I help them make their vision come to life with ribbons, bows, or floral picks to match their theme, and then I let them have at it.  This is also the tree where all the homemade ornaments from daycare and school are hung. We do really treasure their painted macaroni angels and handprint reindeers, so it’s nice that they have somewhere to be hung…..somewhere that perhaps doesn’t clash with my rustic farmhouse burlap and gold theme.   


Ahh, the beautiful, bright, colorful “Kids’ Tree”….you can’t tell from this picture, but the back right side of this beauty is completely empty. Bless their hearts, they tried.


And I have Mom’s tree, which goes in the living room.  I pick the theme (different every year) and if they want to help with placing some ornaments I let them.  For us, it works. Mom’s tree is much more stylized and full of STUFF. Deco mesh, floral picks, wire edged ribbon.  I look at Pinterest all year for inspiration, and then by November I choose how I’ll decorate and get to work. I can use existing decor and make a few simple items to match, and occasionally I’ll buy some ornaments or picks to tie it all in.  Some of my kids are really into it, and some don’t care at all, so I just involve whoever wants to be involved in the process.


Mom’s tree….so calm, so symmetrical, so neutral…”Boring!” if you ask the kids.


But what if you don’t have a house big enough for multiple trees, or you only want one tree, or you have a spouse that is not so supportive of mega-super-intense amounts of holiday decor?


Don’t worry, there are plenty of other ways to let your kids join in the fun and traditions of holiday decorating, without going insane or ending up with a, well, Hot Mess Tree.  

Here are some easy ways to be sure your kids join in the fun of holiday decorating without driving you insane:


  1. Let the kids make ornaments.  This can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be.  On one especially low budget Christmas, I wanted to do a neon green and red color scheme but needed some impact pieces all over the tree to pull the theme together.  Since I couldn’t go out and buy new ornaments, I had my kids (4 and 2) finger paint red and green all over white paper, then cut it into circles and hung them on the tree.  So simple, so easy, and it was abstract and beautiful. They still treasure those little paper circles. Pinterest is a great place to find age appropriate crafts and how-tos.  Here are some ideas:  Homemade Christmas Ornaments and Kid Made Christmas Ornaments.  
  2. Teach them how to make garlands.  Popcorn strings? Construction paper garlands? These are things you likely did yourself as a child.  Not only are they SO fun to make, but they are actually trendy again. A garland is an easy addition to any tree that often takes minimal effort but can make a big impact on your tree.  You can use patterned scrapbook paper to really up the style level and be sure your garland coordinates perfectly with your tree, let the kids paint or color paper before cutting it into strips, or use plain old construction paper.  Here are a few of my favorite links for DIY garlands:  Paint Chip Garland  and Old Fashioned Christmas Garland
  3. Add a smaller tree. If you don’t have room for two large trees, consider adding a smaller tree somewhere in the house and let the kids decorate it.  I’ve seen houses with a two or three foot tree perched on the bathroom counter, small trees that sit on bedside tables, or even a mini tree on the kitchen counter.  
  4. Create a backyard tree.  I have yet to try this, but I love the idea of a nature inspired tree in the backyard.  Kids will have so much fun making pinecone ornaments with bird seed, garlands with dried berries and nuts, and you can even add strands of yarn and fluff that birds can use to make nests. You can put a Christmas tree outside, or you can even just decorate an existing tree in your yard.  Here is an awesome guide to making your own backyard nature tree. 
  5. Kids love helping with gift wrap.  The tape, the bows and trim, getting to use the BIG scissors….every year I make sure our kids have a chance to help wrap gifts.  I think it’s a great teachable moment, because knowing how to correctly wrap a present has largely gone by the wayside in favor of the convenience of the gift bag. I love finding or making wrapping paper that matches our color scheme for the year, because the coordinating gifts sitting under the tree tie in the whole image so nicely.  Instead of buying paper, why not let your kids make their own wrapping paper? You can buy a roll of brown shipping paper at the Dollar Tree, use newspaper, or grab a solid color roll of paper for them to decorate using paint, written messages, handprint art…the possibilities are endless. Check out these ideas for kid made wrapping paper: Kid Made Gift Wrap, Holiday Lights Gift Wrap, and  Upcycled Wrapping Paper.  

Give these projects a try! Your kids will love having the chance to be creative and help out, and you will rest easy knowing that you don’t have a tree with all the ornaments clumped together around the three foot mark. 

If these tips still don’t work, then pour yourself some grownup egg nog, and wait until your little helpers go to bed to fix the hot mess! 



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