It’s the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature is stirring… except for your wide-awake kids who are super-jazzed for the big holiday. How the heck do you maintain routines and keep their sleep habits rolling along smoothly when you’ve got kids amped for a big celebration the next day?
We checked with a few experts to see if there is something — anything — we parents can do to help our kids chill out and bunk down when the biggest holidays of the year are fast approaching. While there is no answer that will fit every family, one of these tips may (hopefully) do the trick, especially if you’ve waited until the last minute and still have some holiday prep to take care of.
Routines are key
It’s vital to stick to your normal bedtime routine as much as possible, Christine Brown, a certified child sleep consultant and the founder of Bella Luna Sleep Consulting, tells SheKnows.
“Children love wonderment but crave predictability,” she explains. This means you definitely do not want to rush them into bed — they can and will sense something’s afoot. This goes whether you’re at home or traveling for the holidays. “Having the connection time with parents before bed will help them to relax and settle into sleep,” explains Brown.
Daytime routines are just as important
In addition to maintaining that bedtime routine, try to keep your normal daytime routine on an even keel as well during the days leading up to the holiday. This can be a challenge if you’re traveling or your kids (or their older siblings) are out of school, but Brown emphasizes that regular mealtimes and normal wake-up times are just as important as regular bedtimes.
Keep the hype down
This is so hard to do. So hard. But Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows that if at all possible, try to keep the holiday hype down to a low roar on the days leading up to the big day or at least the night before.
It’s wildly difficult to do so considering Christmas decor has been up in the stores since the moment Halloween ended and everywhere is just a big red-and-green glittery ball of emotions. But keep in mind that if you talk about what’s about to go down the instant they close their peepers, that can make it pretty hard for them to fall asleep.
Brown says that while loading up on sugar can be fun, it can wreak havoc on your kids’ nighttime routine. “Have sweets for an afternoon snack instead of for dessert after dinner,” she suggests. If they’re asking for a snack before bedtime, offer something with protein and carbs instead.
Brown also says your kids should avoid TV and tablets before bed for a better night’s sleep. “While the kids may be enjoying the holiday movies, it’s best to end screen time at least an hour before you want your children to be in bed,” she explains.
Get your kids involved in party prep
If you’re hosting a holiday party, or making food to take to one, give your kids a list of chores they can help with, Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatric obesity specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SheKnows. “Some ideas include: picking up their toys, setting the table, coloring on paper to serve as decorations [or] helping you cook,” he suggests.
There is a caveat, though — tell your kids beforehand they can participate as long as they agree to start their bedtime routine when you say so. Yes, this is a little bit of bribery, and your mileage may vary, but it’s still a great way to get your kids involved. Also, be sure to tell your guests what your children did to help, as Ganjian says that can be a huge confidence-booster, which is a nice side effect.
Enjoy the moments
While it can be difficult to get kids settled down on the night before a big day, these tips can come in handy for parents with a houseful of very alert kids who aren’t really interested in sleeping. Your best bet is to keep those regular routines in tip-top shape (no matter what else is going on), watch that sugar intake and tone down on some of the hype.
The holiday season is full of memory-making opportunities, so try to fully embrace the celebrations and your kids’ excitement (even though that probably won’t net you any more sleep).
A version of this story was published December 3, 2018.
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