Vacation…it’s filled with excitement, sprinkled with some anxiety, and topped with a little fear. Of course we all are happy and excited at the thought of spending quality time with our families, getting away, seeing the sights, and relaxing (I threw this in for fun because we all know moms don’t relax on vacations). For many of us there are some other emotions that go along with going on vacation, namely, anxiety and fear. Anxiety about keeping our kids occupied, happy, fed, and well-rested. The fear part comes in when we start thinking that we’ll never be able to make all those things happen, and then we’ll have massive meltdowns to deal with. And anyone who’s ever sleep trained their child, or is lucky enough to have a normally good sleeper, will have an extra fear – messing with nights and naps!
No one wants to mess up a good thing, so going on vacation can be very scary to parents. Many vacations or holiday visits include small hotel rooms, shared bedrooms, or co-sleeping in the bed, which for some kids has never happened before. Introducing a young child to sleeping with you when they never have before is like asking him if he’d like ice cream every night for dinner…um, yeah!!! Of course he would! Well, sleeping with parents or siblings is often a huge reward to most kids, and is one that can be hard to break once you go back home. So I’ve put together some helpful tips and tricks to make your vacation and transition back home as seamless as possible.
- Recreate their bedroom while on vacation – Whenever possible try to recreate the child’s bedroom environment in your new location. That might mean you’re bringing along a white noise machine, favorite lovey/pillow/sheets, black out shades, books, or even a nightlight for an older child. You want your child to feel comfortable in their new sleeping space.
- Keep their routine the same – If you’re able to have some downtime before bed, it’s a good idea to stick to their same routine. If you normally have a bath, book, bottle/nursing/drink, snack, or any other routine items you’re doing before bed, then you want to try and keep that same routine while away. Remember, those things you’re doing provide cues to your child that it’s time for bed. It can be hard for them to recognize when bedtime is when they’re away from home, so their normal routine can really help. Certainly older kids will know the drill by looking at the clock and hearing you say it’s time for bed, but it’s the little ones that this can really help.
- Provide individual sleeping space – If at all possible, providing your child with a sleeping space of their own would be ideal as they’re already used to that. For little ones still in cribs, having a portable pack-n-play or rented crib can often work out really nice, as it’s not much different than what they’re used to at home. For older kids, having a pull out couch, spare mattress, or sleeping bag can be great. You may still have to room share, but at least they have their own space just like at home, making it much easier to transition once back home.
- Sleep separately even if in the same bed – While I know how tempting and lovely it is to snuggle all night with your child, try to limit the snuggling to just during the bedtime routine. When it’s time to sleep, try to stay on your own side of the bed where you’re not helping your child fall asleep with touching, rubbing, patting, etc. The less you do while on vacation, the less you’ll be expected to do once you’re back home.
- Take naps when possible – Even if your child doesn’t usually nap anymore, you might find that they are in need of one while away. Vacations are exhausting for everyone, so don’t be shocked if you child needs an afternoon power nap. Let her take it (and you can take one with her)! She’s likely waking up earlier than usual during your time away, so this will help her to catch up on her sleep debt. Remember, an overly tired child can have a harder time falling asleep, can have night terrors, more night wakings in general, and can wake up even earlier than usual.
- Get right back to normal once home – One of the biggest reasons parents have a hard time once they’re back home is that they allow what they did on vacation to come home with them. If you have a child 3 years and up, you want to very clearly explain to them BEFORE the trip what will be happening during the vacation and once you’re back. Let them know that this is a special occasion, and again let them know your expectations both away and home. Then once you’re back you have got to follow what you said! If you’re fickle about things you say, your child will know that and push you even harder. If there’s even the slightest chance that you might lay with them again until they fall asleep, they are going to really push for it. You have to remain strong, confident, and consistent and things should go back to normal within a night or two.
I can tell you all of these things not only as a sleep consultant, but because I have used these tricks and methods myself over the years with my own kids. With 4 children I’ve seen and heard it all! Having just returned from vacation recently (those are my loves in the photo), and having yet another client ask about this, I thought it was the perfect topic for this month’s blog! I quickly remembered this past week what it felt like to be at the mercy of my children. I am not anti-co-sleeping by any means. Hey, if it works for everyone involved, then that’s great! But it does not work for me. I sleep terribly with my kids, and judging by those tired little faces each morning, I’m pretty sure they do too (though they would never admit it).
I had the lovely opportunity to sleep with 3 of my 4 kids over the week (the teenager was living it up in a single bed in her own room), and I was reminded why I need my own space. I had a forearm across my forehead, someone snorted loudly in my face, I was eye to eye with many-a-stuffed animal/dolly, I was pushed, I was hit, I was fighting for blankets constantly, and I was pushed so far over that I was nearly falling off the bed. And then in between all that I was woken up by moving and turning over noises, a kid who fell out of bed, a lovey that was lost, a kid who needed to pee, and a kid who was thought 3am meant it was time to get up since it was so dang bright in our room thanks to only having blinds on double patio doors (I put up two thick blankets after that first night).
Needless to say I don’t think I ever went into my deep, REM sleep the entire week. I felt like I never slept most nights, which made it difficult to function some mornings. After a rough Thursday night, I decided I’d had enough. We actually packed up and left on Friday afternoon even though we didn’t have to be out until Saturday. Between having many nights of terrible sleep and having sand everywhere, I’d had enough of our wonderful beach trip.
In order to be transparent, I should mention that my 4 year old had a complete and utter meltdown when we got home at nearly 9pm. I naively thought they’d all fall asleep on the way home after waking up at the crack of dawn that morning, but I was wrong. My son must have been nearly asleep though when we got home because he went into a night terror-ish state, where he just cried and cried and wouldn’t really talk to me. Those were desperate times, so I laid down with him until he stopped crying, at which point he fell right to sleep (again night terror symptoms). So when I told you to get right back to normal, I mean to do that when you’re child is not exhausted beyond words. He needs to be able to be awake enough to understand you. If you get home late at night, then do what you have to do to get him to sleep that first night, but if you get home during the day, then put him to bed early (because he’ll be very tired from the trip) and get right back to business. Happy vacationing!
NOTE: If you are struggling with your child’s sleep and need some help, please click HERE to set up your free 15min phone assessment today!
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