Celebrating New Year's Eve with kids? Experts share how to handle late bedtimes, family resolutions and more

Experts share their tips for celebrating New Year's Eve with children. (Photo: Getty)
Experts share their tips for celebrating New Year's Eve with children. (Photo: Getty)

This article was originally published on Dec. 28, 2021.

Most kids can't wait to be adults. From their point of view, we have all the freedom in the world and nobody to answer to (if only they knew the truth). New Year's Eve is a perfect example: We grown-ups get to stay up 'til midnight, clink champagne glasses and celebrate to our heart's content without a bedtime in sight.

Kids might not understand exactly what it's like to be in our shoes, but skipping bedtime to ring in the new year is a tradition that can make them feel all grown up. Is it a good idea to let your kids stay up so late? And, if you do, how do you fill those extra hours with fun kid-friendly activities?

Ahead, experts share their tips.

Is it OK for kids to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve?

Christine Stevens, a Washington, D.C.-based sleep consultant and owner of Sleep Solutions by Christine, doesn't think it's that big of a deal for kids to stay up past their bedtime on New Year's Eve.

"It's one night a year," she says, "and it's a fun thing to do when you know they're ready for it."

How do you know if they're ready? Stevens says while there's no specific age where kids can handle one late night, somewhere in the range of 7 or 8 years old is a good place to start. Every kid is different, but if they are good sleepers and typically handle changes to their sleep schedule without a major meltdown, they're probably ready.

Should you make up for lost sleep the next day?

If you do keep your kids up, Stevens recommends keeping New Year's Day plans to a minimum, letting kids relax at home instead. Kids tend to have a more difficult time recovering from sleep deficits than Mom and Dad, she notes.

"The best thing to do the next day is have a little bit of a down day," she says. "Have a little bit of rest time and encourage them to take a short nap if they're tired."

Should you try an earlier "countdown" instead?

Another solution is to ring in the new year at an hour that better coincides with their regular bedtime.

"The countdowns available on streaming services are great for this," Stevens says regarding the variety of New Year's Eve countdowns available on-demand through services like Netflix and YouTube. "You can watch the ball drop at 4 or 5 in the afternoon instead of keeping them up."

We got them to sleep, but the neighbors are partying: What do we do?

You may be able to control your kids' bedtime, but you can't control fireworks, loud parties or neighbors banging pots and pans in the street.

Stevens shares solutions for helping kids sleep through a noisy night.

"The best thing you can do is place a white noise machine in your child's room to muffle some of the sounds," she advises.

Stevens recommends placing your white noise machine near the noise you are trying to block out rather than close to your child. "If you live on a busy street, put the white noise machine near the window," she explains. "If you are having a party in your own home, place it near their bedroom door to block out noise from the hallway."

Help! We need suggestions for fun New Year's Eve kids' activities

No matter what time of day you choose to celebrate, there are lots of party activities you can incorporate into your celebration that don't involve drinking champagne or kissing complete strangers.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has been hosting a "Countdown to Noon" event for more than a decade. Melissa Trumpey, the museum's director of public events and family programs, says some of the museum's celebratory activities — which include midday countdowns, live music, crafts and loads of confetti — can be done at home.

"Families can make a paper time capsule by writing down their favorite movies or books from the past year, any special trips they took and [the year's best] family memories on slips of paper," Trumpey says. "We have them take a photo in front of our 'Happy New Year' banner and put that on the front of their capsule."

At home, you can use a recent family photo or take one in front of a festive homemade backdrop, then use a small canister, paper bag or envelope as the "capsule."

Another popular activity at the museum is learning to say "Happy New Year" in a variety of languages then locating the country where that language is spoken on a map. "We've also done an activity based on time zones to demonstrate how people celebrate the new year at different times," Trumpey says. "At 8 a.m. in Indianapolis, for example, it’s midnight in Australia and they are already celebrating."

How can kids make New Year's Resolutions they'll actually keep?

From dropping extra pounds to taking on less at work, most adults have made resolutions we didn't keep. So is having your kids make New Year's resolutions even a good idea? According to Reena Patel, a licensed educational psychologist and author of Winnie and her Worries, there may be benefits.

"Resolutions give us a sense of purpose," Patel says. "They can increase self-esteem, help you prioritize where to spend your efforts and keep you grounded in times of uncertainty and change."

The key to success is helping kids set attainable measurable resolutions.

Rather than saying. "I want to read more," or, "I want to be nicer to my sister," Patel says to encourage kids to set more realistic well-defined resolutions like, "I will read one chapter from my favorite book every day," or, "I will be nicer to my sister by sharing my toys and asking if she would like to play every day."

"A resolution needs to be very definitive so you know exactly when you meet it: Be as clear as possible when determining what you want to achieve," Patel recommends. "Focus on progress over perfection and have them do regular 'check-ins' so they can track their progress as they work toward their goal."

What about family resolutions?

As an alternative to traditional resolutions, Patel also suggests creating a family mission statement.

"This is a more meaningful way for your family to come up with goals and values that are important within your home," she says.

To do it, set up a time when everyone in your family can discuss your family mission statement. "Have everyone write down one value or trait you believe is important and represents your family," Patel says. "Read them all aloud and look for any patterns or recurring themes, then use these to create a list of family values that includes each person's opinion."

When you're finished, hang your family mission statement where everyone will see it as a reminder of your shared values for the year.

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