Summertime is just about here! That may mean a more relaxed schedule, longer days, weekend trips, and even a long-awaited vacation.
I wait for it all year and when it finally warms up I exhale and gratefully slip on capris and sandals!
But with all of the change that summer can bring, we can also be thrown for a loop if we have young children accustomed to a flexible sleep routine. Maybe you have spent the past few months gently sleep coaching your baby into a routine and as you think about a weekend at grandma’s or a week on the road you just KNOW that all your hard work is about to be lost!
Well, don’t despair! You do not need to lose all of that progress you have made these past few months.
Just like the DIY shows like to share a BEFORE and AFTER photo, I have some BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER tips for keeping your child’s sleep routine intact this summer.
Before you go on a family adventure this summer consider these travel tips:
- Get well-rested before you leave. Make sure your child is well-napped right before you head out and he will handle the changes with a little more ease. This goes for parents, too!
- Plan for fun travel. Bring along some age-appropriate music or stories, a mirror for him to watch his good looks in the car, his favorite and some new board books, and a few car game ideas such as Peek-a-boo, “Where is your….(nose, ear, etc)?”, “A cow says…”, or gentle tickle games.
- Pack items that feel like HOME. Travel is rarely “light” with a baby so go ahead and bring the white noise machine, his own bedsheets and blankets (they smell like his!), a favorite bedtime storybook, his lovey, and a few small but loved toys. If you are unsure of the sleeping accommodations don’t hesitate to bring a pack-n-play. Also, sometimes we dress up a child to see relatives but be sure he has plenty of his comfy clothes, too.
- Tune In. When we travel we can be easily distracted by activities or family events. Pay careful attention to your child’s cues so that he does not become overly tired. Your baby will give you sleep cues (signs that he is ready for sleep) like slowing down his movements; a moment of quiet; eyes less focused, droopy, glazed over or staring; becoming disinterested in his toy, activity, or food; yawning; sudden irritability; and thumb-sucking.
If you watch your child for a few days you will get to know his signs. They may change over time. Once you see his sleepy cues then move towards sleep as quickly as possible, even if it is not “according to schedule.” He can be over-tired from the day before, from overstimulation from new people and surroundings, or not sleeping as well in a new place. Tuning into his sleep cues and responding is essential to having a routine that’s flexible and adjusts to meet your family’s and your baby’s needs.
- Give extra time and comfort. You will likely need to stay nearby a little longer than usual when your child is going to sleep in a new place. Talk about how bedtime is different on vacation and how it will be back to normal once you get back home. Let them explore their new room and have some quiet play time in the new bed or crib before you begin your soothing bedtime routine.
- Be as consistent as possible. Can you stay in the same place for your entire trip? The more consistent your child’s sleep space is (same bed, same room), the more secure they will feel at bedtime and the easier it will be for him to go to and stay asleep.
However, keeping a consistent nap schedule is more important than the consistency of place, even if it means napping in the carseat, out for a car ride, or in your arms (if they are very young). Missing multiple naps will only set your child up for bad sleep at night as well. Get those naps in one way or another while traveling.
- Beware of creating a new sleep crutch. Even though you may be staying near your child longer than usual at bedtime, take care to not create a new sleep crutch, such as rocking, singing, or patting to sleep. As you may remember, a sleep crutch is any consistent pattern you offer your child that he comes to depend upon for sleep (holding his hand, patting, nursing, rocking him till he goes to sleep).
If you have just successfully stopped nursing your child at night, give him the comfort and support he needs if he wakes up, but don’t go back to nursing him. Find some way of soothing your child that won’t create a new sleep crutch.
- Right back to normal. When you get back home, get right back to your normal routine as quickly as possible with a small exception. I recommend keeping your first two days’ activities very light when returning home so that you have time to focus on re-establishing naps and your bedtime routine.
If necessary, do another round of sleep coaching using The Shuffle. Usually you can start your position at the door instead of right by the crib or bed if you have had good sleep skills in place before your travel. It should not take long before you are right back to normal because you are reminding them of a learned skill and not starting from scratch.
I hope your summer travel plans go well and that these Before, During, and After tips help your child’s sleep routine thrive and not just survive your family’s travel plans.
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