With the holidays approaching, many parents become anxious about their kiddos sleep, and how to keep them on a schedule. With oh so many celebrations, out of town guests, traveling, and pure excitement, how do parents have it ALL – sleep and a fantastic holiday season?
I find that the anxiety is even higher with parents who have recently gotten their babies sleeping on a schedule and are worried that they might regress a little over the holidays.
The truth is, those fears are well-founded.
Between the travel, the excitement, the constant attention and then travel all over again, the holidays are the single easiest way to throw all your hard work out with the wrapping paper.
So what is the best way to handle the holidays and keep your littles sleeping and happy (and mom and dad too)?
With some strategic planning, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home, like any other day.
Let’s talk travel! The holidays are such a magical time to take a trip with family, connect with loved ones from afar, and have some fun!
First off, if you’re thinking about starting sleep training your child, but you’re planning a trip in a few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the training until you get back. When parents begin working with me, I ask that they can dedicate two weeks to a strict routine. A new independent sleeper, who is just getting the hang of this big change, will not take easily to a mix up of their routine and schedule. It’s best to wait until your travel plans have passed.
If you’ve already started, not to worry. Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain a sense of normalcy until the end of your trip, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
Taking a road trip?
f you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over your child’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. If at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap.
You might even look for some parks, tourist attractions, or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when your kiddo wakes up. It’s a great chance to get out into the sunshine and fresh air, which will make that next nap that much easier.
Taking an airplane?
If you’re flying, naps can be a bit tricky. It’s no secret that planes and young children just don’t seem to like each other, (although some babies and toddlers do fantastic, cross your fingers). I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of fuss. Snacks are a hit in our family and bring quietness, for a little while at least. As for entertainment, it’s hard to do much on a plane. We’ve happily pulled out the tablet or phone in this situation. It’s not the ideal form of entertainment however it sure beats the anxiety of a crying baby in an airplane (and your neighbors with think you for this too). Some toddler and babies will take a nap on the airplane and others will not. Don’t force the issue, this will cause frustration for you and your child. You can always try a car nap later or an earlier bedtime the first evening after arriving.
When you’ve arrived and are off the plane, now can com the tricky part. You arrive at your destination, let’s just say Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and your child is exhausted, not able to sleep on the plane. Your child is excited, your family is excited, and nobody wants them to go to sleep, in anticipation of the fun and excitement that is planned. It’s exceptionally difficult to tell all these friends and family members that you’re taking a break from the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.
How do you handle this situation?
From my experience, it’s best to be the “bad guy” at times and not make exceptions. We’ve all felt the pressure of a similar situation and although it’s awkward, imagine how great it will be to have a well-rested child, ready to play, instead of a sleep deprived zombie. Let your family and friends know that when baby will be getting up and tell them to hang around, come back, or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule. It sounds a bit harsh, however the alternative is an almost immediate backslide right back into day one.
What could happen? Baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then over tiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more over tiredness 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 can happen that fast, believe it or not.
Where will your child sleep?
Many parents struggle with the sleeping arrangements of travel. It’s common to room share and your child to not have their own room. I do not suggest sharing a bed, as convenient as it may seem. Why jeopardize the hard work you’ve put in? This especially goes for past cosleepers.
A great alternative is a pack n play or must hotels have small cribs available. If your toddler is no longer in a crib, the pull-out couch or a roll away bed is another great option. You will want to keep your child’s sleep space as familiar as possible. Come equipped with white noise, a way to darken the room (sheets or a trash bag will even do) and of course your child’s comfort item if they are old enough.
I suggest to my parents to try to create some separation in the room, when room sharing with your kiddo(s). What does this look like? Parents have been known to move the pack n play into the closet or bathroom of their hotel room. This sounds unorthodox however it works well and solves the light problem as well as accidentally disturbing your child after they’ve done to bed.
What is the key to traveling with your child?
The key is consistency – don’t slip back into old ways, as tempting as it may be. Remember, baby can sleep independently. If you recreate some familiarity of their space at home, it should be easy peasy to get them down.
I find the biggest reason that parents give in is quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on your child, especially a newborn, and by association, the parents. The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is overwhelming in these family gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.
Your baby, your family, and their health and well-being. 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. Perhaps the most noble cause there is, your child’s health and well-being.
I hope your family has a fantastic December and holidays! If you’re struggling with an upcoming trip, reach out!