Getting my kids to listen is perhaps my least favorite part of parenting.
Of course, the problem isn’t me, it’s my kids, right? They're defective? And I'm actually eligible for a refund?
As soon as I imagine asking others for advice on how to manage uncooperative children – the nerve! – I realize that the problem is me. The problem is nagging.
I hate it that the problem is always me!
I know what I need to do. I need to stop asking multiple times. And I know I need to change how I ask.
So, for example, I want Amelie to get into her bathing suit (we were on vacation last week). I need to not yell instructions to her from a different room as I am busily packing the beach bag. Even though that feels a lot more convenient in the moment.
No. I need to stop what I am doing. Walk into the room where she is. Go over to her. Touch her if she’s distracted, and wait until I have her attention. I’ll know when I have it because I’ll have eye contact. (Pro-tip – turn off all electric screens before attempting this.)
Once I have Amelie’s attention, tell her, “Amelie I need to you to put on your bathing suit.”
If she says okay and gets to work, consider myself lucky.
If she says no, consider brokering a deal, “Okay, two more minutes and then you’ll put on your bathing suit?” If she accepts, set an audible timer and prepare to come back in two minutes to enforce the time limit.
If that fails, then I need to be the adult in the situation. I hate that.
So then I need to say, “Amelie, it looks like you need help getting your bathing suit on, so I am going to help you.”
Then I need to physically take charge of her body getting into her bathing suit, just like I would with an infant. It’s not her fault and it’s not a punishment. I shouldn’t be operating in anger. (A bit of frustration is okay!) Ideally, I can keep in my mind that her prefrontal cortex is not fully functional yet and so I am basically operating her underdeveloped frontal lobe for her right now.
The good news is that if I do this consistently – only asking ONCE, no nagging at all! – she will start to take me more seriously and is more likely to comply with my request in the first place.
Talking about this with a friend whose 9-year-old was frustratingly noncompliant, she argued with me, “but I don’t WANT to help her get ready. A nine-year-old should be able to get herself ready on her own!”
Yup. I hear you. Both these options suck. She should be able to get ready on her own.
But the fact is, she isn't.
Do you know that expression, "she isn't giving you a hard times, she's having a hard time?"
She’s showing you she isn’t, actually, able to right now, no matter how much she "should" be able to. No matter what her age. Kids show us what they are able to do. And their abilities change minute to minute, day by day. Arguing with reality – that she should be able to do something – is only going to make my friend more frustrated.
So we have a choice. We can nag or we can help get the job done. They both take energy.
The first choice might take less physical labor but it’s only teaching our children to ignore us until we get angry. Over time, this teaches them to ignore us and also chips away at our bonds.
The second choice takes more energy in the short term but it’s a lot less maddening – once we do our thought work and remind ourselves “she would do better if she could, so clearly she can’t” – and in the long run, is actually increasing our odds of cooperation the next time.
The choice seems obvious but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Take it from me. I’ll report back in a few weeks on how it’s going in my house!
If you'd like help getting back on your parenting game -- let's face it, we all need a reset from time to time -- schedule a free consult. We can talk everything from sleep to feeding to positive discipline.
It’s not surprising that childhood trauma – not just the dramatic kind you see on TV, even much smaller microtraumas – affects our parenting, but with many of the families that work with me, not in the ways you would expect.
In most cases, my clients actually struggle to set boundaries because of inappropriate boundaries they experienced as children. They are actually too kind, too flexible, too democratic in their thinking. They are afraid of being "mean" and raising insecurely attached children.
This might sound like a good thing but it’s actually really not great for children.
Children need clear, consistent boundaries to feel safe. To have secure attachment. When parents are too accommodating, it actually creates more anxiety in children. Children need to know that their grown-ups are in charge, not themselves. The world is a big and scary place. Kids need to know their parents’ aren’t worried… and when parents change rules to avoid tantrums, that sends the message to children that their parents are less than confident.
Of course, children will never tell you that. In the short term, they absolutely want another cookie/more screen time/a later bedtime. But in the long run, parental flexibility on boundaries harms children.
Having boundaries isn’t mean. You don’t have to express them with anger. It’s actually important that you are not angry when you reinforce boundaries. You want children to know that going to bed on time, or limiting screen time, or wearing a seatbelt isn’t a punishment. It’s a boundary set with love, with the child’s best interests in mind. AND it’s perfectly fine if the child doesn’t like it. It’s not up for discussion, but it’s fine for the child to express all the negative emotion she feels.
Negative emotion is never a problem. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not dangerous or traumatic to say no.
A funny thing about parents who want to be “nice” is that they often end up yelling more often than parents who have no problem enforcing boundaries. That’s because these “nice” parents get pushed and pushed and pushed by their children until the parents feel resentful and end up snapping. It’s so much healthier if you can respond immediately when you feel your boundaries being crossed, before you snap. And children will, by definition, push boundaries, no matter how “kind” they are. That’s the job of children, to find limits in the world. And it’s the job of parents to keep the limits anyway.
I finally started seeing an EMDR therapist recently to help deal with childhood trauma of my own. I always thought my own childhood was "not that bad" and I should stop complaining but years of therapy hadn't really helped so I guess my minimizing wasn't helping.
And lo and behold, since I’ve been processing childhood trauma… I am yelling a lot less. I maintain boundaries more easily, more definitively, from the get go.
We all have so many good reasons to be angry… but they probably have very little to do with our children. They have to do with us needing to do our own emotional work.
EMDR has helped me realize that my yelling was due to my own unmet needs. Needs for space, for rest, for love, for compassion. And most of those needs had to be met by me. I have to heal myself (with the help of my EMDR therapist). And that starts with unconditional love for myself. And guess what? The more unconditional love and compassion I offer myself… the more I have for my children.
I still have limits with my kids but now I uphold them calmly. My daughter actually got angry at me the other day for NOT yelling at her – she was dysregulated and melting down and wanted me to yell to help her get regulated again.
Instead I left the situation – after trying patiently for 30 minutes – to be a responsive and sympathetic listener and not having her progress through the tantrum. It was leave or yell, and I really didn’t want to yell.
So I went into my office to read on the couch and ten minutes later, she came in and cuddled up next to me – she wouldn’t let me touch her before – and finally really talked to me. And it turned out that despite all her earlier complaints about my partner, her teacher, her sister, her schoolwork… the issue was really an uncomfortably loose tooth. And so I could just say, “oh, it’s hard being a kid, isn’t it?”
And she nodded appreciatively and melted into me and all was well.
And this would not have happened if I had allowed myself to yell back when she was yelling at me. It’s hard not to respond when someone is yelling at you!
But having compassion for myself and taking that time out to take care of myself allowed me to be there for her when she was ready. And indeed, my setting a limit – “I am not going to allow you to yell at me anymore – I am going to leave the room now” – actually helped her to get calm and re-regulated so that she could allow me to help comfort her. Staying and allowing her to yell at me, or worse, yelling back, would not have been healthy for me or for her.
Parents who work with me for sleep coaching tell me again and again that their children are so much happier, after a few hard days, of getting great sleep. Well-rested children are happy children. But they don’t know that ahead of time. They need their parents to make it happen. They might not thank you later but you will see how they are thriving when their bodies are getting the sleep they need.
If you are ready to help your children get the sleep they need to be their best, schedule a free consult and see how good life can be without sleep deprivation. We can work together to address your own childhood trauma so that the process is as peaceful as possible. Results guaranteed.
Janet Lansbury, author of No Bad Kids and creator of the podcast Unruffled is one of my favorite parenting coaches. I love her ideas about how making space for children’s big emotions – without changing our boundaries – is ultimately more respectful to children than negotiating and caving to their demands.
This week she blogged about sleep training (although she doesn't like to call it that).
Here’s her key takeaways.
Many parents fear sleep training and I was one of them. I thought it would be a terrible, guilt-inducing experience.
Imagine my surprise when I found that sleep training was actually an empowering experience. My babies became calm, confident, predictable little creatures. They never cried after that because I always knew exactly when and what they needed.
But don’t take my word for it. Take Janet Lansbury’s. Great sleep is a beautiful gift for your child and your entire family.
If you are ready for great sleep for your family and aren’t sure where to start, schedule a free consult and be well-rested by the end of the month. Guaranteed.
I’m so confused!
Things seemed to be getting a little bit better each night and I was slowly gaining confidence that this might actually be working and then… last night was terrible! Violet woke up at 2, 4, and 6 am!
I have only been feeding her once at night and she hasn’t woken up three times at night since the beginning!
I thought we were doing so well and now I’m so discouraged!
This is a not uncommon, and naturally worrying, occurrence for some families who are sleep training.
Things seem to be getting so much worse and then sleep suddenly goes off the rails again! Parents worry that all of their hard work has been for naught.
Fear not, tired parent!
This is called an extinction burst. It’s actually a sign of progress, though it’s hard to see that in the moment.
First off, an extinction burst is unrelated to the sleep training method of extinction. It can happen with any style of sleep training.
Actually, an extinction burst can happen when any kind of behavior is gradually being discontinued by not rewarding it with attention any more. It can even happen when training other mammals.
Basically, when the unwanted behavior is almost gone, the child suddenly brings it back with a vengeance, as if to test the parents to see if they were really sure about not rewarding night wakings any more. Suddenly your child wakes up three times a night where she had been waking only once for a while now.
The important thing in this scenario is to stay extremely consistent with whatever method of sleep training you have been using and to NOT reward this new (recently extinguished) behavior with attention.
If you have weaned down to just one night feeding and your baby suddenly wakes up three times at night, it’s crucial you not panic and offer a feeding three times because that would teach your baby that three night feedings are suddenly an option again.
So in this scenario, feed at the appointed time and then use your chosen soothing method at all other times. Do not feed at those other times!
The same applies for night wakings for other reasons.
Trust that this is all a normal part of the process and stay strong. Nothing has gone wrong.
In another 1-3 nights, if you stay consistent, this behavior will disappear. You will reach the promised land of excellent sleep!
Are you ready for great sleep for your family but aren’t sure where to start? Schedule a free chat and let’s see what we can do to help your entire family feel well-rested and happy in two weeks or less, guaranteed.
I hope all is well.
I procrastinated responding since I kept hoping Susan’s sleep would improve again, but it really hasn't. When we first followed the plan, she adapted after just a few nights.
We were away for 4 days over Christmas, and even though we tried the same routine when we returned, she screamed and screamed that she wanted the door open for multiple consecutive days/nights - and spent lots of time during the day asking that we "not put the lock on her door." (the lock, by the way, allows for ther door to be open about 4-5 inches.)
We're really now at a loss for what to do, because she seemed so unhappy even during the day while we were attempting to keep her in her room. A few nights ago we started sitting in her room again for her to fall asleep, and then she eventually wakes up and comes back to our room - which is obviously not great, but she is much happier and less upset during the day. So we're back at an impasse...
If you have any thoughts, would appreciate hearing them as we're pretty stuck....
Thanks for your email. I am sorry to hear that you are struggling with sleep again, and feeling stuck.
It’s always hard when the routine changes with travel, and the bigger the exception you make in her routine – for example, if she slept in your room and especially if she slept in your bed – the harder it is to get back to the old routine.
I think -- I am guessing -- that apart from making exceptions to the rules, that the problem here is that it's feeling really uncomfortable for the two of you to hear your precious Susan telling you how much she doesn't like being alone in her room. Understandably so! No one wants to hear their child crying and protesting! And if that triggers of your own baggage -- and we all have baggage -- it's that much harder for you two.
But I wonder if part of the discomfort for you guys is that you have an idea that it "should" be easier for her now, that she "should" want to go to sleep alone, and stay in her bed all night?
One of the things that I am working on in my own life is thinking about challenges as "of course it's supposed to be hard."
So, for example, I am learning to stand up for myself differently in a close relationship with a family member and the other person is actually not that pleased about it! Suprise, surprise! And him not liking it is really uncomfortable for me, in turn.
But when I think, "of course this person doesn't like that I am re-drawing the map of our relationship -- it's super uncomfortable for people when we change! People don't want to have change imposed upon them. And it doesn't mean I am doing something wrong!"
So... what if you thought, "of course Susan doesn't want to be alone at night. Of course she doesn't want to be alone in her room. It's normal for young children to want to be close to their parents... It's normal for children to cry when they are left alone in a room when they know there's an option of being in their parents' bed. (Even if it doesn't serve anyone's need for great rest.) And that's not a problem! We know that we all need better sleep. She doesn't know that and so we are going to do this hard thing because we know it's necessary."
So my thought is -- decide what you want to do in terms of her sleep and then allow her to protest. Know that her sleep will improve again with your consistency and let it be okay for her to be unhappy.
You can shower all the love and affection in the world on her during the day... and let her be upset at night. Know that she will recover and she will be securely attached to you (all the studies show this to be true) and be so much happier for being well rested. And you will be better parents, spouses, employees and human beings when you are well-rested, too.
So get comfortable with the idea of discomfort. Know that this is exactly what is supposed to happen. Welcome it. Remind yourselves that all of this is part of the plan. And you will all be so much better off at the other end of this journey. Not only because you will all be well-rested but also because you will be that much better at sitting with an processing discomfort. Even better, Susan will have learned that she can do hard things and succeed.
I am still working on this myself, every single day. It's hard, hard work. But I can see my whole life changing as a result.
We can do hard things.
Are you on the fence about sleep training? Worried it could be harmful to your child?
You are not alone. Many parents feel the same.
To address your concern, Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University and the author of Expecting Better. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting meets Freakonomics: an award-winning economist disproves standard recommendations about pregnancy to empower women while they’re expecting" lays out the data on sleep training.
First off, she says, without a doubt, it's effective. She looks at three different meta-analyses -- one based on extinction (aka CIO), one based on timed checks (such as Ferber), and one based on the chair method (parent stays in the room) and all showed significant progress in children's sleep. Best of all, the progress persisted 6-12 months after the end of sleep training.
Next, she looked at studies that claimed that sleep training is dangerous. And what she found -- similar to my own research -- is that none of the studies that state that sleep training is dangerous are actually based on children being sleep trained.
Instead, they are based on children in long-term stressful situations. The most common was children in Romanian orphanages. These children were left in cribs for years with virtually no adult contact. They were also subjected to years of emotional and physical abuse.
Data gleaned from these studies is then extrapolated to be applied to children in loving homes who are being sleep trained.
I think we can all agree that that is hardly a fair comparison.
Looking at studies of children being sleep trained in healthy homes, she found that children's attachment to their parents actually increased after sleep training. Five years later, there was no difference in attachment between children who were sleep trained and children who were not. And as above, sleep training was shown to be effective in improving sleep.
Finally, she says that we may never be able to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that sleep training isn't harmful BUT we have also not proved that sleep deprivation isn't harmful. Oster says, "Among other things, you could easily argue the opposite: maybe sleep training is very good for some kids -- they really need the uninterrupted sleep -- and there is a risk of damaging your child by not sleep training."
There is no research yet on this compelling point, but the research would be fascinating. Anectdotally, hundreds of parents have reported to me that their children are noticeably happier -- not just more secure but also more calm, more focused on their play, less likely to have meltdowns, and more eager to go to sleep -- after sleep training. Take it from them that sleep training is beneficial and consider: what are the costs to your child to not sleep training?
If you are considering sleep training, schedule a free chat and find out more information about what it would look like for your family. You'll get some free tips and there's no obligation to buy.
We have this idea that life with small children is supposed to be relaxing, blissful, even.
I would argue that very little in life with little ones is relaxing, never mind blissful.
This does not mean something has gone wrong with you. This does not mean there is something wrong with your children. This is a normal part of parenting youngsters.
Have you heard of the parenting book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood? I've heard it's great and certainly the title beautifully sums up the reality of parenting.
Parenting is hard work. It's beautiful, messy, hard, sometimes tedious and even excruciating, hard work.
Our culture has high standards about what parenting is supposed to look like. Think of Pinterest images of carefully curated lunches for children.
If creating works of art for your toddler's lunch -- art which she will forget in one miute -- is your jam, rock on. But if it's not, know that your child's life as a functioning adult will not be altered one iota by this "lack" of yours.
In fact, creating unreasonably high standards for ourselves make our children's lives less happy... not to mention our own.
A recent study on child attachment published in the journal Child Development of low socioeconomic status mothers in 83 mother-child pairs (only mothers and children were enrolled) who responded appropriately just 50% of the time had children who were securely attached.
In other words, your child can be securely attached even if you are far from perfect. Hallelujah.
The premise of "attachment parenting" (which has borrowed the word "attachment" but is not based on the actual study of attachment) has unfortunately taught many parents that they need to be literally tied to their babies for months at a time. This can actually promote an insecure attachment if the parent becomes so exhausted and depleted that they are no longer able to be fully present for their child.
Setting boundaries and limits can actually promote, not harm, a secure attachment between adult and child.
Another example of this is sleep training. So often, I see parents who are afraid to sleep train because they think their children will be damaged by a few nights of crying. They fear that not being 100% available will leave their child feel abandoned or even traumatized.
Past clients will all attest that the opposite is true. Their children became much happier when their sleep needs were being met adequately.
Let's talk about how to cut ourselves some slack. So often, we have a script running in our heads of how a "good" parent would think, speak, and behave.
I am learning -- and only recently absorbing -- from my own coaching work that allowing negative thoughts and feelings actually allows them to pass more quickly. I always thought that allowing "ugly" thoughts and feelings was condoning them.
But the truth is allowing those ugly thoughts and feelings and noticing that they are just thoughts and feelings is key to becoming the people we strive to be.
My own coach has taught me to lay my two hands upon my chest and breathe and say, "Ah, I am feeling angry. This is anger. It makes so much sense that I am angry. Of course the thoughts I am thinking are making me feel angry."
I am not agreeing with my story. I am just noticing it, and agreeing that that story creates a certain feeling.
I try to focus on the feeling and not on the story, because it's all too easy for me to slip into the story and get embroiled in a court room drama in my head. If I see myself doing this, I gently bring myself back to just noticing the feeling and stay with it. As many times as is necessary.
Let me be clear: this is not a fun exercise.
But it's powerful. In most cases, after 5-10 minutes, I feel a sudden release and shift of energy. My negative emotions are much less intense. I feel ready to move on. I feel better. Not 100% better, but somehow liberated.
So the next time your toddler dumps an entire bottle of intensely concentrated laundry detergent on the floor of the pantry -- this happened to a friend recently -- take a breath and don't tell yourself to calm down. Tell yourself, "it's okay to be angry." Keep your hands on your chest and allow the anger. Welcome it. Breathe it in. I promise it will pass. So much faster than if you think, "how could you let the child have access to laundry detergent? How dare you be angry?"
This will no doubt be a lifelong work in progress for me, but I am happy to say that just a few weeks of regular practice has made a huge difference already.
So trust me, exhausted, burned out, depleted parent. Take care of yourself. It will pay huge dividends. And in the meantime, the kids are all right.
Would you like coaching on sleep or on how to be happier in parenting? I promise there is nothing wrong with you. You just need a little help managing your brain, as we all do.
Schedule a free consult to get free sleep tips or to get in on an amazing introductory life coaching package.
So many of already have our New Year’s Resolutions teed up. We know just the changes we are going to make…. Soon. But not now. We’re not ready yet.
First we have to get through the holidays.
But what if the holidays could be a lot more fun if you stopped waiting, and started achieving your goals right now?
For so many folks, myself included, the hardest part is not making the changes… it’s just DECIDING to make the changes.
For example, many families fear that starting sleep training means embarking on a long period of relentless crying.
And they are relieved to find that many times, positive change can start with just changing the schedule. Moving bedtime earlier, or switching to a clock-based-schedule from an awake-based-nap schedule. Or starting a gentle, gradual night wean that results in nothing more than a few squawks.
If you want to eat healthier, maybe you decide to just have one serving of dessert instead of three at the family gathering. That can hardly be described as suffering. The truth is, you'll feel really good about getting to enjoy that treat and not waking up with guilt and stomach upset the next morning.
It’s so easy to engage in all-or-nothing thinking but the truth is, even small changes can lead to big results. And small wins can make it a lot easier to face the bigger challenges later on.
Don’t you deserve to feel victorious already when you ring in the new year?
Buy before January 1st and lock in 2021 prices. Pay now and redeem later. And apply for reimbursement for your HSA account for 2021 before it's too late.
Book a free consult before December 24th or buy directly from the website before January 1.
Lots of parents say to me that they haven’t committed to sleep training because they want to have spontaneity and freedom. They don’t want to commit to a schedule.
How do you feel at 3 am when you are up for the third time? You have committed to that schedule by not committing to a nap and bedtime schedule. Is it serving you? Your child? The rest of your family?
What if you knew you had 2.5 hours off during every single day? Would that be a hardship? Would you hate being able to take a shower, return phone calls, place a grocery order, or even watch Netflix?
It’s true that you’d have to have your free time at home. You couldn’t choose to take it in a different location each day.
But you could sit still. Or even… lie down on your very own couch. Close your eyes for a few minutes.
You know how people say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
You won’t get a different result with your child’s sleep if you don’t make some changes. And it’s true that you will give up some things – freedom to go out at a moment’s notice.
But most of those reluctant parents forget that they get something else in return – a different sort of freedom. A freedom to have a scheduled break every single day. The freedom to sleep through the night (because a well-rested baby on a predictable nap schedule is much more likely to sleep through the night). The freedom to relax in the evenings, knowing you have 11 hours before you have to parent again. The freedom to connect with your other loved ones, knowing your brain is much more capable of love when it’s getting the rest and the breaks it needs. The freedom to exercise, knowing your body has energy to burn when its getting the rest it needs.
I was a parent who planned to be home for every single nap, even when it was my second child and it meant limiting excursions for my older child. As a single parent, she didn’t have the option to stay out without me, either, unless I hired a babysitter for one of them. With the cost of chidlcare in NYC, that was an extremely rare treat.
But we quickly adjusted our expectations of how much we could accomplish in a day, and soon learned to relish the scheduled breaks in our day. I was actually worried we would be tired when we switched to only one nap a day for my little one… but that, too, worked out just fine. And now that she’s outgrown her nap entirely, we still plan to be home for quiet time – we all need it. Me too. Moving to Mexico has helped me remember that the quality of my life -- and my children's lives -- are higher when I try to accomplish less.
So give it a shot. Try a nap schedule for a month and see if your quality of life isn’t better, too. If you don’t love it, you can always switch back.
Not sure what the ideal sleep schedule should look like for your child? Schedule a free discovery call and let’s discuss.
***Prices go up January 1 so don't delay.... but you have the flexibility to commit now and get coached later.
Now that we’ve all theoretically survived the transition back to Standard Time — I know some of you are still struggling! — the next challenge many of us face is traveling with small children for the holidays.
And for some of you, thanks to COVID, this might be the first time you experience the “joys” of traveling with little ones to large reunions.
Travel is never easy with small children. As they say, traveling with youngsters is a trip, not a vacation. It’s just parenting in a new and more challenging location.
All children are thrown off by a change in their routine. Then, most of us can expect late bedtimes, confinement in a car or cramped airplane seat (or worse, your lap on a cramped airline seat) more snacks, more unhealthy food, extra screen time, limited opportunities for exercise and fresh air, and as a result, extra tantrums. (To those who are able to avoid those “necessary” evils of travel: I applaud you!)
The first thing I suggest to any parent who is traveling with a small child, especially over the holidays, is lots of kindness and forgiveness for yourself. Please don’t start sleep training or do anything else challenging while you are traveling. Try to make the most of the time with friends and family, and tackle sleep issues later.
That said, if you have already established good sleep habits for your child, trying to maintain them as best you can — while not making yourself too crazy — will really help the whole family survive this challenging time AND the ensuing aftermath when you get home.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Try to maintain an early bedtime as much as possible. Explain to your relatives that if Jose goes to bed late, he wakes up extra early… and the rest of the extended family will be up extra early as a result, too! If you make an exception and let him stay up late one night, try to get him to bed early the next night. Little ones can handle one exception a lot better than night after night of them.
2. Consider feeding Alicia an early dinner at your temporary new "home" before you go out to eat with relatives. She will eat better if you offer familiar foods in a less stimulating environment. If she’s starving when you arrive at a restaurant, it’ll be stressful for everyone and she’ll end up filling up on less healthy food.
It’s better to give her chicken and green beans, for example, at “home” and then offer apple slices as soon as you you sit down. (***Constipation in a small child from too many sugary, starchy snacks will make your life hell so try to offer a favorite fruit before the more processed food.)
After that, a buttered roll when the bread arrives. And then maybe dessert for her while the adults enjoy their entrees. This is the time to offer sugar!
3. Know that your restaurant meal is over as soon as your child melts down. Plan restaurant meals as early as your relatives will tolerate. Bring small toys or art supplies to dinner… or even an electronic screen. Again, this is the time to make exceptions to your rules.
And be prepared to ask for your food to go.
4. Consider whether it’s possible to limit or even entirely eliminate restaurant meals entirely. Could you have food delivered to your host’s home instead? Everyone will enjoy the food more if the children aren’t required to sit quietly but can instead scamper off and play when they are finished eating… approximately 90 second after they start. Just as you sit down with your own food.
5. If your little one is used to sleeping by herself in her own room, try to maintain that while traveling… even if it means setting up her Pack n Play in a closet (leave a door open a bit for ventilation) or bathroom. These spaces are great, too, for keeping her sleep environment dark and quiet.
Do your best to resist bedsharing with your child as this will make your return to your better habits back home more difficult. It’s better to have your child in a nest on the floor right next to you than in your actual bed. Most likely, everyone will also sleep better that way.
6. Consider bringing his car seat on the plane if you think it may make him more likely to nap there. Some children do better in that familiar cocoon. Others prefer to curl up on the airplane seat. (Of course it’s always safest for a child to travel in a car seat on an airplane… but many families are intimidated by the thought of lugging a car seat onto a plane. If your car seat at home is heavy, consider a lightweight travel car seat like this one -- I use it myself for travel with my preschooler).
7. Bring your white noise from home. If you don’t have one you love, or if yours is bulky, I love this one by Homemedics. It’s lightweight and can be powered by batteries if the power goes out. The Hatch Rest is another option that includes both nightlight and white noise, if you aren’t quite as limited by space. I use the red light on that as a nightlight for my kids as red is the least disturbing for sleep.
8. Pack light — I’ve learned the hard way that my kids never play with the toys I bring when they are in a new environment — but bring along a few favorites for the car or airplane. Make sure to pack any loveys and pacifiers your child uses at home, also.
Too much stuff makes wrangling children that much more stressful when you are in a crowded airport. Car travelers, you can bring all the stuff your heart desires... but remember it will make packing up (and unpacking) at the other end that much more stressful. Do laundry at your relatives' house if you can. You do not need to bring the special baby detergent. Use whatever detergent they have and program an extra rinse, if you are concerned.
I also hereby give you permission to leave bottle warmers, wipes warmers, baby bathtubs and most other baby equipment at home. Your child can cope with small changes like these. Ask your family member if they can borrow or buy a Pack n Play and this portable high chair/booster seat so you don't have to bring them on the plane (or arrange to rent them at your destination). That way, you can bring the sleep space and booster seat along if you spend time in other homes.
I keep a couple of nightlights in my travel toiletries kit so that I can instantly transform any “too dark and scary” bedrooms and bathrooms. I also bring along my kids’ owl nightlights — they are battery powered and turn off within a few minutes, so I know the nightlight won’t keep them awake. But being able to carry the nightlight to the bathroom makes my little ones feel a lot more secure.
9. Get your little one outside for fresh air and daylight every. single. day. Even if it's just in an empty parking lot to collect leaves or count rocks. This will help him adjust more quickly to a different time zone. Fresh air and exercise also tire kids out, helping them nap better and sleep better at night.
10. Limit screen time… when you can. With the caveat that all bets are off on travel days. On those days, whatever keeps them quiet is great! Although if you are stuck waiting in an airport, take advantage of the time and space to get them moving… save the screens for when you are actually on the airplane.
Once you arrive at our new destination, turn off the screen and encourage exploration and movement. Screen time tends to make children's brains wired, even while it keeps them quiet. And screen time in the hour before sleep can make it harder for children to fall asleep. Let them play and run and, ideally, interact with Great Grampa Joe instead. Save the screen for when you really need it.
11. If you have the opportunity to do so, stay in a hotel with a pool. Pools are amazing for wearing little ones out. And with a pool around, you really don’t need toys. Just don’t forget your child’s safety device – these can be bulky in your suitcase! – and your own bathing suit, of course, as well as your child’s. If you hate cold water, like I do, recruit another adult or teenage cousin to bring theirs, too.
12. Be prepared to “abort mission” if your little one is falling apart at the family event. Children act out as a way to communicate that their needs aren’t being adequately met. It's not their fault. It’s not your fault. It’s just really hard for little ones to accommodate the needs of their older friends and relatives. They will be more flexible as they get older.
13. And when you get back home, revert back to the old routine immediately. You may experience some protest crying, especially if you indulged in some less than ideal sleep behaviors while you were traveling — like sharing a hotel bed — but if you revert back to the old ways as soon as you get home, your little one should be back on track within a few days. Until the next trip, anyway!
Need some help getting back on track after the time change or recent travel? It's understandable -- this is not easy! Let’s schedule a free chat and get your family back on track.
*** Returning clients, if you need a quick reset, you are not alone! Don't forget that you get a 10% discount on all support,
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.