Few experiences are more magical than witnessing Christmas morning through your child’s eyes. What’s not so magical? Engaging in bedtime battles on Christmas Eve or waking to voices begging to open presents at 4:30 a.m. Christmas morning (especially after “Santa” was up well past midnight assembling brand-new bikes, dollhouses, play kitchens and more).
As much as you may be trying to stick to your regular routine, chances are that things aren’t so routine the night before Christmas. And that’s okay—it’s part of what makes the season so special! Unfortunately, it can also cause kids to ramp up the resistance when you need them to do something they may not want to do like going to bed.
While nothing could be more Scrooge than threatening to keep the big guy at bay if little heads don’t hit the hay, using these 10 phrases can help set the stage for a silent night:
1. “Christmas begins when the alarm clock dings.”
Before the age of 7, kids have a very loose grasp on the concept of time. An alarm clock offers a more concrete way of letting them know when it’s an acceptable time to get out of bed rather than simply instructing your child to wait until morning (after all, 5:00 a.m. is technically morning).
Set the alarm clock together and have your child press start so that they feel involved in the process. Remind your child that once the clock dings, Christmas begins and you can all go downstairs as a family.
2. “Let’s go sledding!”
3. “If you wake during the night, remember to do the sleep wiggle.”
Often, when kids wake at night they shuffle into your room simply because they don’t know what else to do with their little bodies. Teaching your child the sleep wiggle provides a set of moves they can easily remember to help them return to sleep.
First, roll over on your tummy, grab your lovey, snuggle in and close your eyes. Be sure to practice the sleep wiggle together during the day.
4. “A good night’s sleep will give you lots of energy to play with your new toys on Christmas Day!”
Use positive sleep speak at least three times during the day—especially if you have a child who struggles with sleep even when Christmas isn’t around the corner. Praise your child for every successful bedtime and naptime. Saying things like, “Wow, you took such a big nap today!” or “I was so proud of you when you fell asleep on your own last night!” can make a difference.
Try naturally working positive sleep speak into your day.
5. “Alexa, set the timer for 10 minutes.”
Try providing kids with plenty of warning before a transition occurs and be as clear as possible with your expectations: “When the timer goes off, we’re going to walk upstairs and you’re going to take a bath and get ready for bed.”
6. “Let’s play Zingo!”
Plan to power down all electronics one to two hours before bedtime. Research suggests that the light and stimulation from screens may interfere with the body’s natural ability to fall asleep. Consider building a new tradition and playing a family-friendly board game before bed.
7. “I’ll turn on the white noise machine so Santa doesn’t wake you up.”
With everything your child has to look forward to the next day, they may wake more easily at night or early in the morning. Using continuous white noise can help block out any sounds (like, ahem, Santa’s workshop working overtime after the kids are in bed) that could cause your kid to stir.
8. “Here’s a bedtime snack.”
Offer sleep-inducing snacks such as warm milk, whole-grain toast with peanut butter and banana, a small bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon, or cheese and crackers. These foods contain a variety of compounds such as protein and melatonin that can help soothe them to sleep.
Bonus: If festivities during the day meant they didn’t eat well at meals, a bedtime snack could help quell grumbling tummies and buy you some extra time in bed come morning.
9. “Santa will arrive after everyone’s asleep.”
Consider this phrasing for a more encouraging, rather than threatening (“If you don’t go to sleep, Santa isn’t going to come!”) approach. For extra creativity points, have a family member ring a little bell outside while you’re putting your little one to bed and say, “I think I hear the reindeer flying by! Let’s go to sleep so Santa can stop here!”
If you don’t follow the Santa tradition, try saying things like, “your body is growing so big and strong when you’re sleeping,” to help place sleep in a positive light and make it more appealing for your child.
10. “In the morning, we’re going to open presents, eat breakfast and then go to Grandma’s house.”
While many children may be buzzing with excitement about Christmas Day, other kids are going to feel anxious. They know it’s different from a typical day, but they may not be sure what to expect. This can be unsettling and interfere with their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
If this sounds like your child, take a few moments at the end of the day to talk with your child about what they can expect at Christmas. Let them know that you’re available to answer any questions, talk and remind them that you’ll be together all day long.
With these phrases, you’ll set a clear and positive tone when it comes to your child’s sleep on Christmas Eve and you may just experience a Christmas miracle: a full night of rest before a very special day.