The school holidays are just around the corner and many of us will be heading off for a summer holiday or short break with our children.
Where once the promise of a beach holiday was something they dreamed of all year, lots of parents are now telling me that the thought of the family holiday fills them with anxiety and dread. They are really worried about getting their little ones to sleep in strange new environments, managing changing time zones, or disrupting the sleep progress that they have already made.
Read my advice on holidaying with small children and relax! The holiday can be a great chance to enjoy quality time with your children and not as stressful as you imagine.
Preparation is Key
Make it a priority to make sure that your child gets all of his naps and a few early nights in the days leading up to your travel. They will travel much better if they are well-rested and be ready to start the holiday as soon as you arrive.
Think about getting those extra naps in any way that you can. Try a pushchair or pram nap, a carrier or a sling, a baby swing or a ride in the car – see what works to top up your child’s sleep.
Also try extending their naps by trying to gently resettle them as they wake. It may add an extra 15 – 20 minutes on the end of a nap and help to prevent over tiredness.
Plan sleeping arrangements
Think about where your child will sleep whilst you are way.
If you are staying in a hotel, villa or holiday complex, you can often pre-book a travel cot or bed guards so that you can be sure they’ll be available when you arrive. Alternatively, you could take your own travel cot. Most airlines allow you to take travel cots for young children, or they will easily fit in to car boots or carried on to trains.
If you plan to take your own travel cot, you can set it up at home the week before you leave so that your child can practice napping in it and it won’t be unfamiliar when you are away.
When you arrive, set up the child’s sleep space and try to make it as calm, secluded, quiet and dark as possible.
Think about travel time
Accept that the time (or the day) that you travel will be different to a normal. Whatever you plan, it will differ to the child’s normal day and may well go against their normal routine. The environment will be different, meals may be at the wrong times, the motion of the car or plane may lull them off to sleep at the wrong time. Accept that it is not a normal day and don’t fight your child’s sleep. If they need to have a big sleep, let them, you probably won’t be able to stop them anyway!
Make sure that you are all well fed, well hydrated and as well rested as possible, to get through the day and adjust to the changes.
Also remember that children’s little legs need to be stretched and allowed to move at regular intervals. If you can, plan in regular times for them to move around and stretch out, away from their seat.
Move with the times
As soon as you get to your destination, set your watch to the local time and adjust to it straight away. Change all of your watches, clocks and phones to the new local time and don’t confuse yourself with what the time would be back at home. Adjust your mindset and stick to the local time.
Start whatever routine or activity you would normally do at that time of day and your body will fall into rhythm. Maintaining your regular eating pattern of 3 meals a day at regular intervals, will help to set your body clock and help you to adjust – so if it’s lunch time when you arrive, have lunch!
Relaxing the rules?
Most people like to relax their home rules when they are on holiday to allow slightly different behaviours. Perhaps you want to allow your children to stay up later in the evening (and hope that they sleep in later too!), or maybe you want to allow motion naps in a buggy in the afternoon whilst you are out and about, or perhaps you want them to sleep in a pushchair next to you whilst you are at a restaurant in the evening – whatever it is, don’t worry about confusing your child with this.
You can have different rules on holiday as long as you allow them throughout the holiday (not changing it each day) and as long as you go back to your home rules as soon as you return home. Your child will recognise home as a familiar place and will accept going back to the rules that you had their previously.
If you start to skip naps it won’t pay off in the long run. Your child will miss out and you will all end up feeling tired and cross and it will alter your holiday. Take the time to try and maintain at least one of the naps in your room.
If you are staying with friends or relatives gently explain how important it is to your whole family that you fit naps in. They probably don’t understand or won’t remember how much young children depend on good naps to maintain their overnight sleep and good mood!
If you are struggling to get your child to nap away from home, try motion naps such as in a buggy or car to help lull them off to sleep more easily, or consider a sling or carrier if the child is small enough. A motion nap is better than no nap.
A little extra love
Expect that your child will need some extra time and reassurance from you as they adjust to the holiday environment. They will probably need lots of love, cuddles and comfort to settle in to in a new place.
Spend some extra time with them at naptime and bedtime, letting them know you understand it is somewhere new to get used to, but it is a fun, safe and lovely place to be. If they need you to, try sitting near to them or in the doorway while they fall asleep, but don’t go back to feeding or rocking them if these are habits you have already moved away from.
Back to reality
Once you get home you can return back to your normal routine, schedule and home rules straight away.
It’s a good idea to keep the calendar fairly clear for a few days so that you can help your child return to his normal routine. Don’t be surprised if he needs some extra sleep because of all of the activity and travel time.
Extra tips in the sun
- Whilst on your holiday, Don’t forget to follow sun safety advice: wear Sunscreen, use a sun hat, cover your shoulders, and seek shade between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest. Remember to keep babies out of direct sunlight as much as possible.
- Never be tempted to cover a pram, buggy or car seat with blankets, cloths or any cover that prevents the air circulating. It could lead to your child overheating and increases the chance of heat exhaustion and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Blocking the carrier in this way creates a barrier between you and your child, and you may not see if your child is having difficulties. Instead attach a clip-on sunshade or parasol and check to see if they are getting too hot by feeling their tummy or the back of their neck.
- Don’t forget to read my 8 tips for hot weather sleep safety
Rachael at The Sleep Sanctuary
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