Our top tips to get kids settled on Christmas Eve

Struggling to keep little ones occupied on Christmas Eve? Fret not, weary parents – we’re arming you with some easy hacks to help tackle the most difficult bedtime of the year.

Puffin team

The only job tougher than Father Christmas’ bitter night shift, is being a parent on Christmas Eve. Keeping kids entertained, calm and sleeping through the night without the assistance of magical powers is the ultimate endurance test.

We’re pretty confident in our list of Christmas Eve tricks, but in case of an emergency, repeat these words: Santa only brings presents when children are asleep.

A photo of a couple of children on a sofa wearing festive antlers with a Christmas tree in the background
Image: Getty

A morning Christmas scavenger hunt

Wake them up nice and early for an activity that exercises their brains and bodies! The key to a restful night on Christmas Eve is tiring them out so much, that bedtime is not a battleground. So why not kick things off with something fun that will get them moving and thinking from the moment they wake up, like a scavenger hunt? Even better, a Christmas books-themed scavenger hunt with PRIZES! You could hide the likes of a peach (James and the Giant Peach), a copy of Charles DickensGreat Expectations (Matilda Wormwood’s favourite book), Greg Heffley’s journal (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), a Christmasaurus plush (The Christmasaurus), a golden ticket (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and a chewed carrot (The Tale of Peter Rabbit). And of course, give out prizes. Prizes = cooperation. 

Get them to help you with present wrapping

Often, if you give kids a job to do their whole attitude transforms; they know they have a grown-up job on their hands and try to mimic the behaviour of adults. Why not give them a couple of gifts to wrap up (while supervising, of course)? Perhaps a present you’ve got for them to give to a family member? Show them how it’s done and then wrap another one alongside them. It will make them feel like they’re a big part of all the Christmas preparations and makes the present-giving that extra bit special come Christmas morning. This activity has the potential to really help calm them on the most exciting day of the year.

Check out the local Christmas decorations late afternoon

If our favourite reads have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have to look that far to seek adventure – especially at Christmas. Why not wrap the whole family up warm and go Christmas lights spotting around sunset on Christmas Eve? Make a game of it – who can spot the house sporting the most dazzling Christmas lights? Soaking up some evening air and getting some gentle exercise will encourage a solid night’s sleep, too. Who knows, they may even lie in! But don’t be too hopeful…

Puffin Christmas gift guide

Find gift inspiration and ideas for children with our selection of festive books. Plus, we have a host of fun activities to get you in the Christmas spirit.

Discover now

Enjoy a family movie marathon

If you find yourselves without anything much to do mid-afternoon, settle down on the sofa together, grab some snacks and pop on a film – it can be Christmassy or not! There are plenty of films and TV shorts inspired by some great children’s books, our favourites include A Christmas Carol, The Snowman and the magical BFG.

Don’t surprise them with bedtime

Write it in 40ft letters in the snow in the garden if you have to, but make sure they know exactly when it’s time to hit the hay on Christmas Eve – it’ll make the whole process easier on you if they know it’s coming (especially after a jam-packed day of festive fun). Whatever you do, don’t surprise them with an early bedtime when there’s a room full of adults getting merry downstairs. Not even a Christmas miracle can save that one. 

Turn off the screens and open a book before bed

The light emitted from screens is highly stimulating for little (and big!) brains, so be sure to make sure all screens are turned off at least an hour before bed – smartphones and tablets, in particular. If they tell you they can’t sleep – and let’s face it, they will – let them read for an hour before bed. It will help them unwind and drift off naturally. 

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