Kulala

6 Tips To Managing Your Child's Schedule During the Holidays

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The holiday season is upon us!

Are you ready?

Of course you aren’t!

You’re not finished decorating, you still have travel plans to iron out, and we won't even get you started on your kids’ wish lists.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. They can also be incredibly stressful—and that’s even without throwing kids and their sleep schedules into the mix.

Between gift-buying and wrapping, decorating, food preparation, travel plans, family obligations, and more, it can feel like you have no choice but to abandon your regular schedule in favor of fitting everything in.

But overtired kids aren’t going to make things any easier on anybody (which you obviously know by now.) So it’s important to stick to your schedule as much as possible—while still making room for all that holiday fun.

But how does one do that?

Here are our best tips for managing the holidays with a baby, young child, or both!

Say No

Say it with me: “Thank you for the invite, but we can’t make it.”

We know it doesn’t feel great to turn things down. Holiday parties, another outing with Santa, Aunt Helen’s hot chocolate tasting—disappointing people isn’t fun.

But you’re a parent. You have little kids at home. You can’t do everything, and you should not be expected to. It’s incumbent on you to keep your kids grounded and happy. And whisking them from event to event, while disrupting their nap schedule, isn’t the best way to do that.

Plus, besides having a nap and eating schedule, you and your kids deserve some downtime during this busy season. To wrap presents, to bake cookies, or just to do whatever it is you want to do. An overscheduled life is rarely a happy one.

There’s nothing wrong with saying “no” when it doesn’t work out for you and your family.

sleeping baby

Work Around Your Child’s Sleep Schedule

If you can’t (or don’t want to) say no to everything, there are always ways to adjust things to make them work for you.

Santa coming to the mall right smack in the middle of naptime? Find a different Santa appearance to go to.

Holiday party at your parents’ at 3:00? Say you’ll be there by 4:00, so you don’t have to wake your child up early from their nap.

Hanukah dinner at Aunt Rachel’s? Let her know in advance you’ll be leaving early to get your kids to bed.

New Year’s Eve party? Get a sitter. There’s no real way to drag kids to this and have them get a good night’s sleep.

It is absolutely fine to arrive late to events, or leave early, in pursuit of maintaining your sleep schedule.

If anyone has a problem with this—A) They’re clearly not a parent and B) They don’t deserve your bending over backwards to fit them.

Any friend or family member worth your time will understand, and will either adjust the timing of their events, or be totally okay with you showing up late or leaving early.

Don’t Change Up Their Daytime Sleep

Toddler having trouble taking a nap after seeing Santa?

Baby too overstimulated from visiting all her aunts and uncles?

You might be inclined to let your baby or child nap longer during the day to make up for his tiredness caused by all the excitement.

Try not to do this.

Every child has an overall sleep requirement. This means you can’t simply make up for a lost nap by getting them to take a longer nap the next day. One lost nap is not going to throw everything out of whack. But if you shift around your schedule too much to try and make up for that lost nap, it will do more harm than good.

To solve the over-stimulation problem, try to stick to your baby's routine as much as possible. Do this by leaving early and showing up late, as we suggested above, and by using that great “no” word we talked about earlier.

baby on plane

Deal with Jet Lag Effectively

If you're planning on traveling across time zones this year, your baby (along with the whole family) may experience jet lag.

If you're traveling a relatively short distance—say, a 1- or 2-hour time difference— and staying one week or less, keep your baby on her normal time zone. It might mean your hours are a little weird (9 AM wakeup, 9 PM bedtime, anyone?) but this plan will be far less disruptive to her sleep routine in the long run.

If you're traveling a longer distance, gradually move your baby or child’s routine by 30 minutes each day before you arrive at your destination. This is especially important if flying east, e.g. New York to Europe, or from the West to East Coast. This strategy hits a wall once it collides with your family's logistics—there's only so much wiggle room in most families' schedules, with school and work start and end times, as well as daycare and babysitter/nanny schedules. Still, typically you'll be able to shift everybody's schedules up to 2 hours earlier before you travel, which will significantly reduce or eliminate jetlag. 

For example, if you’re flying to the UK from the US, you’re dealing with a 5-hour time difference. The UK is 5 hours later than the US. So 7 days before your flight, shift your baby’s schedule by 30 minutes per day, starting with wake-up time, then naps, and bedtime. Also all meals, and any other activities if possible. Then shift it 30 minutes more each day.

This will make for some strange days, with a 5 am wake time on the day before your flight, but that's ok. The magic is that you will already be halfway there when you arrive. You can use our Kulala app for this process: simply change your desired wake time every day by 30 minutes, and you will have the right schedule and know exactly what to do each day. 

Once you're at your destination, honor your body's clock by continuing to shift slowly. Or if you're staying for less than one week, stay on that middle-of-the-Atlantic time zone for the whole time, meaning late wake-ups and late bedtimes. 

To prepare for the trip back home, do the same, but in the opposite direction. Like we said, it will make for some wonky scheduling—but at least baby (and parents) will be getting their sleep! If you're still not quite on your home time zone when you're back, use the Kulala app to continue slowly shifting back by adjusting the desired wake up time.

Keep in mind that flying west is much easier on the body, because our circadian clocks adjust more easily. So for shifting west, do it in 1 hour daily increments, before, during, and after travel.

Sofia's book How Babies Sleep has a whole chapter on avoiding jet lag while traveling with kids—we highly suggest picking up a copy before travel!

Pack a “Baby Sleep Kit”

The other key to getting your kid to sleep when you’re not at home: having the right tools.

We recommend bringing a “baby sleep kit.”

What’s in this kit?

1. White noise

Whether baby is sleeping on the go or in a new environment, there’s no telling what the noise situation will be. A white noise machine means it doesn’t matter how loud things are around your baby. So long as they have the noise they’re used to falling asleep to, they’ll be fine.

Many white noise machines are portable and can last a decent amount of time without being charged. Or you could always use an app, like Guva, with a variety of sounds on it. This means you don’t have to pack anything extra at all, as it can be accessed from your phone.

2. Black out curtains

The light situation: very important while trying to maintain your child’s schedule.

As we’ve explained before, light is a huge factor when it comes to sleep. Blue light, or the kind that comes in sunlight and most artificial lamps, signals to your body (and your baby’s) that it’s time to wake up. Absence of that blue light signals that it’s time to go to sleep.

As you may not be able to control the light in the sleep environment your baby will be in, it’s important to bring the right tools with you that can transform any space into an appropriate baby sleep space.

If you have the space, bring along some of these basic, affordable, portable shades from Amazon. There’s also Snoozeshade and Slumberpod, which both make products that are designed for getting your baby that much-needed blackout sleep when on the go.

3. Baby soothers

When on the go, it’s important to make your child’s sleep environment as close to the one they’re used to as possible. That means bringing along their sleep sack, a pacifier (or 5), lovey—anything they normally sleep with should come on the go with you, too.

4. The right sleep space

And obviously, you need a place for your baby to sleep while you’re not at home.

We always recommend baby sleep in their own space. If possible, have a crib or bassinet at the destination you’re going, either rented or borrowed.

If that’s not possible, there are some great travel crib options, like this one from Baby Bjorn, that fold up super compact and are easy to fly with. Remember to bring a change of sheets!

If you have an older child, you may be able to get away with a regular bed at your destination. We just recommend replicating the sleeping space they’re used to as much as possible to minimize disruptions to their routine.

sleeping baby

Remember That Small Changes to the Routine Aren’t the End of the World

While we always advise keeping disruptions to your child’s sleep routine to a minimum, it also helps to keep in mind that a missed nap or late bedtime here are there won’t ruin your lives. Sometimes it’s worth it to let them keep playing with their cousins, or see Santa come by on the fire truck, or stay up a little later to finish baking those cookies.

The holidays are a special time of year, and part of the joy of the season is watching the wonder on your kids’ faces as they experience it all, perhaps for the first time. Don’t be so rigid about the routine that they miss it.

Those are all our tips for spending a happy, healthy, and minimally-disruptive holiday season with your kids. Do you have any others? Let us know on Instagram!

However you spend the holidays, and whatever you celebrate, we wish you a joyous season and a happy new year!