Many of us spent the holidays with our family like this, on a screen.
But if you are considering traveling beyond the couch in the future, you may be worried about how it will affect your child's sleep.
One of my current client couples decided to cancel their holiday travel plans so that they could devote themselves fully to sleep training. While I applaud their committment, that is not always an option for all families.
If you are considering travel now or in the future, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. The "half-life" of vacation. My friend Jess coined this term, which means that however long you were on your trip, it will take roughly half that long to get back to normal with your child's schedule. So if you were gone for 10 days, expect it will be approximately 5 days until things are back to normal.
2. The closer you adhere to your normal routine while traveling, the faster things will go back to normal. Even with the "half-life of vacation" principle, there are many things you can do to hasten (or delay) the return to normal. If you have night weaned, try not to offer night feedings on your trip... while also recognizing that sometimes, you have to prioritize the needs of a houseful of family and friends over your own family's needs. If you've stopped bed-sharing, try not to resume if you have another option... and have compassion for yourself if there are no other options.
3. Maintain bedtime and naptime schedules whenever possible. If your child goes to bed late and wakes up early (as a result of that late bedtime) every day of your trip, everyone will suffer. Limit the exceptions for truly special evenings. Keep bedtime early and naps on schedule whenever possible. If you have to have one nap on the go, have the next one in a crib or bed.
4. Schedule travel around your child's naps and bedtimes if your child will sleep in motion. My older child would only scream in the car -- it was exhausting -- so I let her take her first nap at home before we left home, if it was a short drive, or else planned for a no-nap day and a very early bedtime. We also mostly avoided car trips and took planes or Amtrak when possible.
My younger child would take naps in the car if I played the "correct" soundtrack on repeat and prevented Big Sister from talking loudly. With two kids, especially a high-energy younger sibling, driving became a much more appealing option than flying or taking the train.
Every child is different. Some children will keep on sleeping if you transfer them from bed to car at 4 am. My children would never do that. But if yours do, go for it! That's a fantastic time to travel -- zero traffic.
5. Travel with children is a trip, not a vacation. You'll be doing all the same work of parenting, but in an unfamilar (to your child) setting. Which means more work for you. Bedtimes and meal times will surely be more challenging. That's not to say you shouldn't go, just that you should have realistic expectations about how much fun you can expect to have.
6. Keep some healthy food in the rotation. Extra treats are par for the course when it comes to vacation travel... but if your child eats nothing but processed carbohydrates, you can expect him to become constipated, and that will be misery for everyone.
7. Prioritize fresh air and exercise every day. Small children need outdoor time every single day. If you're stuck in an airport, walk around and let her look at "the sights" -- the airport is a fascinating place to little ones. Otherwise, bundle her up appropriately ("there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear") and get her outside. Ideally more than once per day. Fresh air helps with naps, with general crankiness, with separation anxiety, with bedtime, with picky eating... it's just a win all around. And it doesn't have to be you pushing the stroller -- your sister-in-law will probably be an acceptable substitute for your child.
Let's face it, travel with young children is never relaxing. And there will almost certainly be times when you choose it anyway. Trying to keep your child as well-rested and on schedule as possible will help your "re-entry" pain.
If you'd like help getting your family great sleep so you can truly enjoy your time together, whether at home or away, book a free consult. Find out how your family can get the sleep you deserve.
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.