Is anyone else in my boat — blindsided by the holidays and wondering where October and November went?! Since we just had Thanksgiving and Hanukkah is here, it’s time to talk about travel, holidays and breaks in routines and sleep schedules. Here are a few of my tips for traveling with tots.
Prepare your child for the trip: It can be hard to know exactly how much our children understand at a young age because their receptive language skills (what they understand from us) develop in advance of their expressive language skills (what they communicate to us). As a general rule, I would argue that most children understand more than we give them credit for.
I raise this point because I find it very important to let children know that there is a change of routine coming. Invite their participation in preparing for the trip as much as you can, given their age. For tots 12-18 months this means just talking about going on a trip and saying bye-bye to the pets or house as you leave. With a slightly older child you can help to prepare them by letting them share the responsibility of packing their bag, specifically the things they need for sleep. This might include a cherished blanket, pacifier, tub toys, white noise machine and favorite bedtime books.
Bring the unwashed crib sheet: A familiar scent can be particularly comforting for children when they are away from home. As such, I often recommend bringing along the unwashed crib sheet from home for your baby to sleep on. For older toddlers, this is not nearly as important. If you’re planning to use a pack n’ play, sleep with the fitted sheet that fits the pack ‘n play mattress.
Unpack together: When you arrive at your destination, spend a few minutes getting the room where your child(ren) will sleep ready. This means setting up the crib/pack ‘n play with the sheet you brought from home and any other sleep aids you may have brought with you. Have your child with you while you do this. Explain to them that this is where they are going to be sleeping.
Also, take a few minutes to unpack the toys and books you brought along. Play with your child in the room for at least 10-15 minutes so they develop a positive association with the space.
Leave extra time for your bedtime routine: Since most children are at least a little uneasy about falling asleep in a new environment, it is helpful to devote extra time at the end of the day winding your child down for sleep. Ten or fifteen extra minutes should suffice. While the order of the routine should remain the same, you might spend a little extra time reading and snuggling.
Stay on schedule: I know that one of the great things about being on vacation is being spontaneous and free from scheduling. Unfortunately, children really do much better when they have a schedule that is predictable every day. Therefore, it works best when you are able to keep the routine of your daily schedule when you’re away from home. Of course, you should be able to have a late night here and there, but to the extent that you can preserve your schedule, the better your child will sleep and behave.