Christmas is a VERY exciting time when you are a young child. Going to sleep knowing that firstly, someone very exciting is coming to visit your home overnight (Santa) and you need to be asleep in order for him to visit, AND that he will leave presents for you is just a little more than some children can manage at bedtime.
Here are some suggestions to help you tonight
1.Plan to be home at a reasonable hour if possible, so your child can prepare themselves mentally and physically on this exciting Christmas Eve. Being out and having your children fall asleep in the car or rushing through Christmas Eve rituals can end up with all of you in tears and make bedtime even more difficult. If you have commitments that won’t have you home around usual bedtimes, consider doing your Christmas Eve rituals early before you go, so your children have been part of this setting up for Santa’s arrival. It will be a far smoother transition to home when you get home late.
2. Plan out what you intend to do Christmas Eve (even an hour or two) so that the children know what is expected of them and they can’t drag out the rituals as delay tactics. For example, that you will have dinner and bath as usual, then into PJs. Bedtime might be a little later than usual but work through a few activities such as:
- leaving supper out for Santa
- writing a letter for Santa to go with his supper
- placing a few carrots out for Rudolph and his chums
- checking Christmas stockings are in place
- having a last look at the Christmas tree before saying goodnights
Having an oven timer or phone alarm to signal time to finish up preparing for Santa’s visit and now time to transition to preparing for bed uses a higher authority figure ( the timer) that can’t be argued with, unlike you! Set the timer off and announce to your children that is the pack up buzzer and it is time to get ready for bed. Carry on with your usual bedtime routine.
3.Have a very special Christmas story to read to capture the children’s attention, something a little bit different, and allow time for a couple of favourites as well. Allow extra time for this pre sleep wind down period to help relax your child and cue them to bedtime. If they are a little excited once in bed, you may wish to try a guided imagery of having your child laying still in bed with their eyes closed so you can start a very special spoken story by you. “I have this very special story to tell you but I can only start it once you are laying still in bed with your eyes closed.” This keeps the language positive and showing you have control of the situation. It gives the child incentive to lay still and be ready for your story rather than the opposite of ” If you don’t lay still with your eyes closed, I won’t tell you the story”. Much more inflammatory for you both to lose your temper sooner rather than later. The story might be of Santa ready to take off from the North Pole with his reindeer or if that is too exciting, it might be a story of what Christmas was like for you as a child and some of your own family traditions.
Take a big breath and keep calm. You may need to hover outside the bedroom door like a policeman catching any sleep thieves that may try and sneak out of their bedrooms. Once they you know you are there and there is no hope of one last sneaky look for Santa or have the presents arrived yet, it will be easier to get them to sleep than finding your escapee out in the living room and the fight to catch and return your child to their bedroom.
It is ok to be empathetic with a child that is finding it hard to settle and go to sleep. ” I know it is really hard to lay still and go to sleep now. The sooner you go to sleep, the more likely Santa is to visit our home, so let’s try.”
Telling a child to go to sleep is vague, so you might try asking them to do specific actions such as:
- lay still
- close your eyes
- put your head on your pillow
- if they are trying to engage you in a conversation – I love talking with you, but will speak with the sun is up. Time for sleep now
- when you are laying quietly I will….. come and sit with you, hold your hand, stand in the doorway. Anything that you feel you are prepared to do in order to help your child fall asleep. Again this is spoken in affirmative language rather than – If you don’t lay quietly, I will leave. Adding that threat makes it harder for many children to then fall asleep. Remember there is the excitement of Christmas and now the threat that mum or dad will leave, that is a lot of pressure for child just before sleep.
Christmas preparation doesn’t have to be Instagram perfect. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself. When my children were young, I used to work a night shift on Christmas Eve so I could have Christmas day effectively off with my family. It was hard to have annual leave at that time of year and I wanted to be present for my children, so our Christmas memories involved us a family, not with mum at work. We would go to a children’s church mass in the evening then home to leave out a mince pie and milk for Father Christmas, and a special note wishing him Merry Christmas. The mandatory carrots for the reindeers and into bed. And into bed,and into bed again. Trying to get myself dressed for work and ushering my sons back into bed in case Santa turned up early and kept going as they were not in bed asleep yet. Then came the mad dash of eating half a mince pie and washing it down with the milk, chewing bites out of Rudolph’s carrots and adding a good few dollops of Branston pickle mixed with glitter ( yes you got it, reindeer poo) outside. Then helping Santa to fill up the stockings and be on ready for handover at work by 8.45pm. It was an insane dash and one that I felt enormous guilt over for many years. For rushing and not being there overnight. My sons are now grown and don’t remember anything but all the good stuff, they barely remember me working and being half asleep on Christmas Day. They Do remember the carrots and reindeer poo, the excitement of presents under the tree and that I was there when they went to bed (eventually) and that I was there every Christmas day with them. Kids are resilient and don’t take much notice of all the stuff that we as parents give ourselves a hard time for. Just do what you can manage, you are enough just being you.
4. Ensure the coast is clear before giving ‘Santa’ the signal that the presents can arrive under the tree. If you have two or more adults in the house, get one adults to stand guard so you don’t get any surprises yourself of a child on the look out for Santa without you knowing.
5. Be prepared for extra early wake ups. Have a strategy for this. For some families the excitement extends to the adults and you are all happy getting up and opening gifts together at 5am. Others might offer to let the child open one gift then return to their bedroom until 6am or after. Spend time with your partner to work out what your plan will be so you are both on the same page and avoiding arguments at 5am Christmas morning. I definitely had early Christmas wakers so my husband and I were happy to leave a very small wrapped gift on the end of our sons’ beds to let them know that Santa had been but it also let them know he might still be in the living area at the tree and best not to disturb him as he may not have finished leaving gifts and leave early if he hears you are up. They were allowed to play quietly in their bedroom with their gift but not come out until 6. For us this worked. Get creative and see what works for you.
7.There are also some children that are apprehensive/ anxious on Christmas Eve. The thought of a man, a happy and friendly man, yet still a stranger, entering and moving around their house in the night, can be overwhelming for some. Spend time letting your child know that ‘Santa’ has permission to enter your home as is there with good intentions. You may leave out a special ‘Santa’ key as part of your evening preparation to show your child that you are giving permission for Santa to visit and only he can open your home with his special key. No one else can open your doors with it. If you have a safe area outside, it may be easier to set up a Santa stop outside so that your child is not worried about noises in the night or someone being inside your home. Just be sensitive to your child’s needs and support them through their feelings and concerns.
8. Relax. Remind yourself that this is time for being with family and a big day for children. Be patient and guide your children through a very big day. Take a lot of pics WITH your children, not just of them. Have some pictorial memories for when you are all older that you can reminisce about. They may not be glamour shots. Your hair wasn’t sitting right, you didn’t have your make up on or you feel you look too fat. To your children, you are everything and none of that matters to them, just take the shot and remember to smile!
Merry Christmas and sweet dreams to all x