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7 Tips For Surviving Sleep Over The Holidays With Babies & Young Children

The holiday season is in full swing 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 wonderful as it all can be, it can also take a toll on many little ones. 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? It provides little ones with comfort, knowing what’s coming next. They feel empowered because most of their lives is dictated to them.

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 really tough.

So, what can you do?  Well, if your little one is really 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 – the stress hormone, which causes your little one to fight going to sleep, sleep more restlessly and wake up sooner. By getting your little one to nap or bed on time – when she needs it, you can help prevent the overtired behaviour that ensues.

Earlier bedtime

Have you noticed that even with a later bedtime, your little one is still getting up at their usual time? It would be nice if a later bedtime meant a later morning but for the most part, this isn’t the case. If you can, make bedtime as consistent as possible to your normal schedule and stick to your normal 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 huge difference to sleep for babies and young children.  White or pink noise provides a consistent sleep environment and drowns out other noises 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 floor board that you know to avoid but your guests don’t, you won’t have to “shushh” 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 major 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. This includes drinks, even unsweetened juices.

Respond with empathy

If your little one has been struggling, it’s easy to get frustrated. When you’re out or you have guests, it can be especially frustrating, especially if you know he’s capable and usually displays better behaviour. You little one is not behaving this way on purpose. 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. Acknowledge his feelings; “It’s been really busy lately and it’s so exciting during the holidays. I know I’m excited too. It’s easy to feel really tired or overwhelmed.”  You may find your toddler or young child responds with a release of emotions.  That’s okay. It’s fine to lovingly hold him and let him cry and get that release that comes from a big cry.

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 completely 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 normal routine in order and get back into your normal routine as quickly as possible. Consistency is the key to getting back on track.

Best wishes for a very healthy and happy holiday season!

Mary Foster is a certified infant, child & maternity sleep consultant, entrepreneur and mum of 3 little ones. She’s a proud Canadian, living in Surrey, England. She’s the founder of Sleepy Lambs Sleep Consulting and the very popular Sleepy Lambs Sleep Academy. 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.