The holiday season is upon us once again, and I have such mixed feelings about this time of year. I love seeing family and having an excuse to enjoy some extra desserts! I also dread the chaos of driving or flying to see family, while trying to maintain my son’s very carefully orchestrated sleep schedule and routine. If you know me at all, you’d know that I am fairly strict about keeping my tiny human on his schedule, because no one likes my son when he is not well rested. Some kids are flexible, go-with-the-flow types and can roll with some minor schedule changes. My son is not one of those kids! Therefore, the holidays can be a tricky time for us and I know it can be for you as well, especially if you’ve put a lot of effort getting your little one on a schedule too!
So, I figured now is probably the best time to share some of my travel tips and tricks with you. If you have spent time and effort getting your kiddo onto a great schedule, then you’ll remember all the hard work it took. Keeping your child on this schedule isn’t going to be a piece of cake either. There will be grandparents, aunts, uncles, random cousins, crazy nighttime overstimulating events, not to mention a boatload of sugar-laden desserts that are all on a mission to disrupt your little one’s perfect sleep schedule. I’m no drill sergeant, but we’ve put in a lot of hard work to help our kiddos be happy, healthy, well-rested little people. I don’t really enjoy having all that hard work go down the drain because Grammy insists upon your toddler trying her homemade cookies right before bed. I’m a big believer in “there is a time and a place” especially around the holidays, but this does not mean we get to throw all the rules and routines out the window! So, let’s try and find some balance by doing a little preplanning, shall we?
Planning to Travel
Are you traveling? No, then you can skip this section entirely and move on. If you are, then keep reading!
Your little one gets to see new places and experience new things, YAY! How are you getting there, by plane? Okay, don’t panic! Plane rides can cause parents a lot of anxiety. I’ve seen full Pinterest threads around how to manage with kids on a plane, so clearly, you’re not alone! Almost all my sleep rules go out the window when traveling by plane. As previously mentioned, it’s a stressful situation already, so let’s just try and get through it the best we can, without worrying if a plane full of strangers are going to hate you at the end of the flight. This is a time for technology, tablets & phones. They can save the day if that’s okay with your parenting style. Food can also be very helpful, try to keep the sugar to a minimum, as there isn’t a lot of space for them to run it out of their tiny systems. Although sucking can help ease the pressure in their ears, consider a sugar-free lollipop if your little one is of age. Breastfeeding and bottle feeding will do the trick for younger ones, so make sure you have extra on hand for take-off and landings! If you’re fortunate enough to have your young one fall asleep on you or in their own seat, do not disturb them. I repeat, do not wake them; even if it could mess with their schedule. Travel is stressful on our minds and bodies, the extra sleep on the plane won’t screw everything up, I promise.
Maybe you’re traveling by car, that can create its own kind of stress, especially if you have a child that hates their car seat (like mine did). Again, preplanning can be very important here. Try to plan around your child’s nap time. Car naps aren’t ideal, but I would choose a car nap, over no nap any day. Depending on your trip’s length and destination, try and map out some parks, tourist attractions, or sightseeing built-in around your child’s nap schedule. It may take you longer to get to your destination, but the journey will be more pleasant, with some fresh air and sunshine along the way.
Planning Your Stay
You finally arrived at your destination, YAY! Or maybe you never left and now all your relatives and friends start to arrive – also YAY! Hopefully, you’ve managed to arrive or prepare everything with some of your sanity still intact because it doesn’t get easier here. Now you’re at your in-law’s house or your in-laws are now at your home. There is lots of family and everyone is so excited to see the little one. They want to play with them, take pictures and show them all the cool things they’ve brought. This ultimately gets them ridiculously overstimulated!
Now you have the hard job of putting an end to everyone’s fun because your little one needs to sleep. If you need permission or someone to blame, it’s me! Consider me the bad guy, as I give you full permission to do what is best for your little one’s sleep! It important to not negotiate or make exceptions, especially at the beginning. Show them this is important to you and stick to your guns; no “just checking in” or “sneaking a peek” from random family or friends. Just be honest and tell them you’ll let them know once the baby is up and they can catch them next time. Even better, tell everyone ahead of time your child’s sleep schedule, so they and you can better plan for them to see the baby around their schedule.
I know this may sound strict or rude or maybe impossible, but the flip side is that you end up having to start all over again with your child’s sleep plan. Imagine this – Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined. This results in more overtiredness, which derails nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire trip. It truly happens that quickly, so you have to let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule! Try and remember all the hard work you put in and how great you all felt when your little one was sleeping well. Don’t let a pushy relative or friend ruin all that! Also, don’t feel bad about it either, remember I’m the bad guy, and you’re the amazing parents doing what’s best for your kiddo!
Now if you’re at home, it will be easier to put your baby down in their usual place to sleep. Although with all the fun, new and interesting people out in the family room, there will be more of a fight to go to sleep than usual, as most children have FOMO (fear of missing out)! Stick to your routine and it normally only takes a few minutes for your little one to be out for the night, although you may want to turn up their sound machine while you have visitors.
If you are not home and have found yourself at a hotel, relatives or friend’s home, it is important that you consider the best place for your little one to sleep. Most of the time the child doesn’t have its own room, so if you weren’t co-sleeping before, now is not the time to start! Maybe the hotel has a crib, or you brought your own play n’ pack/portable crib. Either way, it’s important to consider where in the room their sleep space is going to be. I know this is going to sound crazy but… an oversized closet (or even bathroom) may be the best place for your little one. Think about it, you can close the door making it dark and giving them a separate sleep space. Plus, if you’re staying with family or friends, you won’t have anyone accidentally walking into that room and possibly waking them.
Keep the Routine
Ultimately, I’m saying that no matter if you travel or stay at home and host, you’ll want to do your best to keep everything as close to normal for your child! The same bedtime routine, the same naptime routine, even the same books or songs you always read or sing (note, don’t forget to pack the bedtime book). Oh, if your child has a favorite lovey, pillow or toy, don’t forget to bring it! Children are built to test us, test our patience and our nerves, but most of all, to test boundaries we set forth for them. With this knowledge, I can tell you with certainty, that your child will fight bed and nap time for the first couple of days. Why? You may ask. The answer is simple – the situation changed, so they feel they must test it. What I imagine my son is thinking every time we visit family or go on vacation – “I can’t go to bed. There are new people here and this is a new place. She doesn’t really want me to go to bed, wait, this isn’t my bed. She didn’t mean to put me in here. I better make sure I can’t stay up later. I’m going to try crying and see what she does”. For this reason, it is critical to not bend the rules or change the routine. I don’t care if your mother-in-law is outside the door “checking to see if everything is okay” or you’re worried that you might wake up other people in the hotel.
If you do bend or break any rules even once, I promise you’ll be up every couple of hours, either putting the pacifier back in their mouths or rocking them back to sleep or however you got them to sleep in the first place. This would mean more nighttime wake-ups, which means more crying, which means nosey relatives “checking-in” again or more worrying about waking other random hotel guests. All of this could have been avoided if you stuck to your rules in the first place; yes, even if they cry or fuss for a half hour at bedtime. Honestly, this can be a very embarrassing time for a lot of parents as the whole house hears your little one protest bedtime at this new location. I can tell you from my own personal experience, it is far less embarrassing to have a half hour of tears at bedtime then having a child who is waking everyone up multiple times a night! It’s important to remember in these judgmental parenting moments, that always happen at these family gathering, how happy your child is when they’re well-rested. So, it’s not about them judging you or feeling bad as a parent for sticking to your rules, it’s about doing what is best for your child and family. There may well be a few people who feel a bit jaded because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby in the closet for the night is ridiculous, but remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause; defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves!
I hope these tips helped you become more prepared this holiday season. I work with parents one-on-one to create healthy sleep habits for their little ones and I would love to work with you too! Click the buttons below to view some options that work for you!