It’s that magical time of year again when the house is bursting with excitement. The kids have finished school for the summer, and the promise of long warm summer evenings are just round the corner: welcome to the holiday season.
Although this should be an exciting time of year, for some parents Christmas can be a very daunting and stressful time.
Believe it or not this is the most common time of year for bedtime routines to fall into disarray, especially if you are faced with late nights, over indulged children, long haul flights, and a house bursting with relatives.
So how can you keep your little ones on track during the holiday season?
Strange room/ strange bed
If you are going to be staying away in a Bach, hotel or just staying with friends try to make your child’s surroundings as familiar as possible. Take your child’s usual bedding, night light or soft toys with you so that your child is reminded of home and will feel more relaxed. For younger babies going as far as taking unwashed cot sheets that smell of home can make all the difference in a new unfamiliar environment.
If you have to share a room with your child (and this is not usual practice for you), try to section off an area in the room creating a unique sleep space for your child, and thus giving you more privacy. Try moving furniture around to create a partition between you and your baby allowing you freedom to move around the room without the risk of disturbing your baby.
Playing white noise can help create a sound barrier in the room and reduce the risk of your baby hearing you move about at night.
If using a travel cot, make sure your child can’t see you through the sides as this will be an added distraction and may tempt your child into waking more frequently. Always check before you go which type of cot will be provided in your accommodation, as cots can vary considerably in quality, size and cleanliness you may feel happier taking your own.
Long haul flights
If possible choose a night flight to minimalize stress on the family and avoid lengthy stop overs that involve spending hours hanging around in airports.
Most long haul flights have basinet seats (a specific seat on the plane where a small crib/cot can be attached safely in front of you) that can be booked in advance thus allowing your infant a safe and comfortable place to sleep. (*Weight restrictions apply)
Due to new safety measures all babies now have to be removed from their crib/cot and strapped to you during any periods of turbulence.
During take-off and landing the pressure in the cabin may affect your child’s ears and cause discomfort; try to offer a feed to alleviate this pressure or for older children they may prefer to suck on a lolly.
If travelling with a toddler take their own set of headphones that fit properly and a device with all their favourite programs downloaded onto it. Most major airlines have a USB port on the back of the seat so you can plug in and charge your device as you go.
Before your holiday take a few video clips of everyday life for your child to enjoy during the flight. Children love watching themselves on video and it’s a guaranteed way to keep them entertained.
For super busy children, take sticker books and playdough and use the pull down table for drawing and board games. Take small individually wrapped gifts (yoyo, bead threading, small Lego kits etc) for your child to unwrap when boredom kicks in and to hold their attention for longer.
Once at your destination, it is always best to adopt the new time zone straight away. Children have amazing abilities to adapt to their new environment. For example, if you arrive in Dubai at 2 o clock in the afternoon when in fact it’s the middle of the night for you, just keep your child up for the rest of that day; feed and bath them as you would normally do and as darkness falls your child’s body clock will quickly adjust. Don’t worry if your child has slept a lot on the plane, it won’t have been quality sleep and he will probably be exhausted any way. Day light, meal times and activity play a huge role in helping your child to adapt quickly.
Day light saving
The long light evenings and bright early mornings can sometimes upset your child’s natural sleep rhythm. As we naturally produce less melatonin (hormone of darkness) during the summer months, it is advisable to darken your child’s room as much as possible.
A simple and effective way to do this is to use a ‘black out’ blind across your child’s window or add black out lining to your existing curtains.
For a cheaper alternative you can buy a length of black out material. (Obtainable from Spot Light) Measure and cut it to fit the inside of the window and attach at the top of the frame using a row of Velcro spots; leave unsealed at the bottom to allow for ventilation. This can easily be removed during the day but will create an effective seal and should darken your child’s room dramatically.
For a quick temporary solution, stick tin foil on the window using sticky tape to instantly darken a room, the perfect solution if staying in a hotel room or self-catering accommodation.
There are going to be times when your child goes to bed later than usual over the Christmas period but try to stick to their usual bed time routine as much as possible.
For example, if they usually go to bed at 7pm but are still up at 9pm then just follow your usual bed time routine (bath, story, bed) and they will be unaware of the later time as their usual routine has remained the same. However be warned, it won’t necessarily mean that they will sleep in longer and quite often if repeated over several days, your child may well become irritable and over tired.
If you are going to be out late and have a long journey home, then bath and get them dressed into their pyjamas before you leave so all you need to do is transfer them to bed once you get home.
Remember that Christmas only comes round once a year. Try to enjoy this magical time of year as much as possible and maintain a fair balance, but remember that children are creatures of habit and thrive on routine and consistency as this helps to make them feel secure.