The holiday season has begun, and it can be so magical as a parent of babies and young children! Seeing friends, visiting relatives, travel, parties, goodies, excitement, gifts and anticipation! As enchanting as it all can be, the holidays can also take a toll on sleep, creating many overtired babies and children. Here are a few tips to enjoy the holiday season with your little ones.
Why the holiday struggle?
Babies and children thrive on routines and schedules. They love knowing what comes next and are frequently much calmer with the predictability.
Have you ever noticed that toddlers and young children love reading the same book over and over again or watch their favourite movie, TV show or listen to the same song 738 times in a row but love it more each time? Routine and repetition provide comfort, allowing babies and children to know what’s coming next. The routine lets them feel calm and empowered.
The holiday season often throws comforting routines out the window. The result can be overtired babies and children, extra tantrums, and less sleep for everyone. Add in a cold or illness, and it can be tough.
So, what can you do? Well, if your little one is struggling, look at their schedule for the last few days or even weeks. It will probably tell you the answer.
Focus on wake windows
It’s easy to get distracted and suddenly realise that your little one has been awake for too long. When little ones are overtired their bodies produce cortisol and adrenaline – stress hormones. These stress hormones cause your little one to fight going to sleep, sleep more restlessly and wake up sooner. By getting your little one to sleep when she needs it, you can help prevent her from becoming overtired.
Have you noticed that even with a late night, your little one still wakes up at their regular time? It’s so frustrating! Wouldn’t it be nice if a later bedtime meant a lie-in? For the most part, however, this isn’t the case.
If you can, keep bedtime as consistent as possible and stick to your routine – even if you’re away from home.
Make it loud!
Expecting guests or travelling? Adding some white (or pink) noise to be played for the duration of night sleep and naps can make a massive difference to sleep for babies and young children. White or pink noise provides a consistent sleep environment and drowns out other sounds that may wake your little one. Whether it’s the “prancing and pawing of each little hoof” from Santa’s reindeer, Aunt Ella’s loud laugh, or that creaky floorboard that you know to avoid but your guests don’t, you won’t have to “shush” guests in fear of waking the baby and the consistent noise. Just be sure to play it for the duration of night sleep or naps!
Limit sugar, especially before bed
It’s hard with so many delicious treats around (guilty here!) but many children are sensitive to sugar, and it can have a significant effect on behaviour and sleep. If you think this is the case for your little one, limit sugar in the last few hours before bed, including unsweetened fruit juices.
Respond with empathy
If your little one has been struggling, it’s easy to get frustrated. When you’re out or hosting guests, it can be frustrating. The behaviour is likely a direct result of the change in routine, and that’s not his fault. He just may be struggling to cope with it. Some babies and children are more sensitive to these changes than others.
Responding with empathy is always a winner. By acknowledging his feelings you may find your toddler, or young child responds with a release of emotions. That’s okay. Sometimes a good cry, while being supported, means they get an emotional release and feel much better after.
Focus on the relationship
It’s easy to get busy shopping, wrapping, baking and entertaining and not have as much time to focus on your little one as much as usual. Spend some “special time” together, even for 5 minutes 1-2 times a day where you are entirely focused on your child and doing something they want you to do. It doesn’t need to take long, but it can make a HUGE difference in behaviours.
It WILL pass
The holiday season doesn’t last forever. Find whatever days and evenings you can that keep your routine in order and get back into your routine as quickly as possible after the holidays. Consistency is the key to getting back on track.
Best wishes for a very healthy and happy holiday season!
Mary Foster is a sleep specialist, an entrepreneur and mum of three little ones. She’s a proud Canadian, living in Hampshire, England. She’s the founder of Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consulting. She’s passionate about supporting parents and helping newborns, babies, toddlers and young children learn to sleep better with a strong focus on emotional health and wellness.