Routine — or lack thereof — is a big issue for children during the holidays. It tends to start slowly with costume events in October and seems to keep going right on through to the New Year whether you have a school-age child participating in after school sing-a-longs, plays, and concerts or a toddler coming along for shopping trips, visits to relatives, or the aforementioned school plays and concerts. The changes in schedule, though well-intentioned, can impact behaviors and moods of children of all ages. Here are some tips to manage your child’s routine -- and your sanity -- during the holidays:
Make sleeping and eating and priority
When holidays bring on extra activities, long outings, and festive meals parents should prioritize their child’s sleeping and eating routines.
For toddlers and younger kids, sticking to a consistent eating and sleeping schedule makes it less likely they’ll have a meltdown. Take note: recommended sleep for toddlers is 11 to 14 hours in a 24-hour period; for preschoolers its 10 to 13 hours; and for school-age kids its 9 to 12 hours per night!
If festivities conflict with your child’s eating schedule, work to find a middle ground whenever possible and bring along healthy snacks if needed. Considering packing cozy winter pajamas for your young ones to change into just before leaving the party. It can make the transition on leaving a bit more smooth and the transfer to crib or bed much easier too.
Take something from home on the road
Comforting items from home often help children get used to a different environment with new faces and noises: blanket, pillow, or favorite stuffed animal. If you’re staying overnight, consider a noise machine or night light just like at home. For infants and toddlers, be sure to call ahead to see if a pack-and-play or crib is available where you’ll be staying.
Pack for activities
Children need to move and engage, and without the stimulating environment of daycare or school during holiday break they will need parents’ help more than ever to get what they crave. Pack for indoor and outdoor activities by having the right rain or snow gear (plus extra pairs of socks!) and creative multifunctional toys: a small bean-filled toy can play hide-and-seek, can be tossed in a game of catch, can soothe a fussy baby, or can slide down grandpa’s legs! A boxed deck of cards in a toddler’s hands can be a car driving across the table or can be used to play a variety of games for anyone who knows how to count! Whatever your options, encourage your child to help decide the activities and try to engage the whole family…the next one could be your new family tradition!
Speak up and be honest with family
Family members with whom you don’t usually interact may not be aware of the routines and rules of your household. Be open and explain why something is or is not allowed for your child. Try to use language such as “In our house we…” to reinforce the rules with your family and with your older child. By having set rules in mind, you can feel confident with the boundaries you have set while minimizing the stress of pressured decisions and later resentments.
Stay on top of screen time limits
Whether at home or traveling to visit friends & family, your child will have more access to TV, tablets, and smartphones. Stay on top of screen-time limits and the appropriateness of viewing content. Be with your child and discuss what you’re watching together, and (if applicable) encourage discussion among the other children in the room.
If you don’t already have limits at home, set them now: for children ages 2 to 5 years, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “limiting screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs while parents co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.” Furthermore, parents of children 18 to 24 months of age “who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they're seeing.” For children under 18 months old, the AAP recommends avoiding screen use other than video-chatting.
Enjoy the moment
Especially during this season of being thankful and spreading kindness and love, remember why we put some much into getting together with family members and visit with friends and neighbors: enjoying each others’ companies and showing our love. Take a deep breath, take it all in, and soak up these moments — and not just for the social media share — for the real human connection of being present with your children and making moments into memories they’ll carry through their lives!