Counting down to Christmas with preschoolers: The final moments

Dec 17, 2018 7:00:00 AM / by Amber Lappin


It’s almost time for Christmas day! You’ve worked hard to both build some excitement with your preschooler and take care of your family and yourself this Advent season.  Now, as the big day draws closer, make plans to ensure this year’s holidays are filled with lifelong memories and reminders of the true reason for Christmas.

Here are three tips for making Christmas Eve and Christmas Day a fun, Christ-filled occasion for you and your little ones.

Set up for success

Preventing meltdowns is a critical part of enjoying Christmas with your preschooler. That means that in addition to thinking of what’s on your child’s wish list, you pay attention to what’s on their list of needs.  

Is your child cranky if they don’t catch enough zzzs? Remember that falling asleep can be difficult on Christmas Eve when you’re young – they are full of anticipation. Plan to wind down your festivities early, allowing for a nice warm bath and time for stories and prayers before bed.

Is your child super charged after eating sugar? Fill stockings with healthy snacks they can eat before opening the candy canes.

Does your child act up after being around lots of people? Remember it’s okay not to pack up and travel all around when you have small children. Unless the whole family loves an on-the-go Christmas, build a little margin into your day for your children to be able to enjoy their gifts in peace.

Finally, when purchasing gifts for your preschooler, include activities which are apt to hold your child’s attention for a long time. Presents like play dough, crayons and paper, or puzzles are great ways to help your child stay occupied and in great spirits during the day.

Find your focus

Look for ways to keep your child aware of the spiritual significance of Christmas. Use strategies from your own childhood memories, or adopt some of your own. Our family had a few traditions to help make our little ones aware of Christ’s birth and God’s love for us. On Christmas Eve, for example, each of our kids was allowed to open up one designated gift before bed. Our gift was always pajamas.

This had a threefold purpose: ensure cute photos on Christmas morning, move the schedule toward bedtime, and set the scene for a room full of jammie-wearing kids listening to one of us read the story of Jesus’ birth. 

Another tradition was setting up a non-breakable nativity scene in reach of the kiddos on the same day we decorated the tree. We purposely found a set made of resin and had a baby Jesus who could be removed from the manger. After the children were snug in bed, my husband and I would hide the baby Jesus figurine in the house. On Christmas morning, before they could open any presents or check out their stockings, our kids had to find the baby. Sparkhouse also has a cute mini manger that you can make from paper!

This helped us remember what we were truly celebrating, and became a lot of fun even as the children got older. Last year, our now college-aged girls still came downstairs and immediately started to look for Jesus! My husband and I hadn’t even thought to hide it, so we had to distract them while we hurried to right our oversight – it was such a touching reminder of how much traditions mean to our children. 

Some families make a birthday cake and sing happy birthday for Jesus every Christmas.  I’ve found that gospel-themed books, toys, and media (songs or movies) made great gifts for my wee ones, and helped us keep our focus on Christ as well.

Whether you follow old traditions or start your own, taking time to intentionally include Jesus in your celebration will be a wonderful way to honor the Christ child.

Be present

My final tip is to make sure you take time for you to enjoy the festivities. Leave your phone out of reach, keep your guest list simple, don’t over commit or over extend.  

Sit on the floor with your children. Play with their new toys. Sing Christmas carols and drink hot cocoa.  Don’t let the societal expectations of this season rob you of the wonderful gift of experiencing Christmas with your child.  

As you sit back and take it all in, intentionally identify moments you want to remember. Take a deep breath and reflect on your blessings.  

Having preschoolers in your home during the holidays can be wild, but by taking a little time to prepare, you will find that these days are the makings of some of your sweetest memories.

Merry Christmas, preschool parents! May your year ahead be filled with great times with the children you love and being aware of Christ’s deep love for you.

Topics: Early Childhood Ministry

Amber Lappin

Written by Amber Lappin

Amber is a speaker and writer with over 25 years of experience in early childhood development and children’s ministry. She works as an associate professor at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in the child development education department, and as a grant program director for two nationally accredited preschools. Amber enjoys "small town" Southern California living with her husband of 25 years, Jason, and their three children.


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