It’s all fun and games until your toddler gets tired.
The holidays are an exciting time for kids with gifts galore, visits from Santa, sweet treats, family gatherings and much more. But when you’re running from here to there, your little ones often get off schedule resulting in hungry, tired little Grinches. And that never turns out well for anybody.
“It’s important for parents to set realistic expectations and understand the holidays don’t need to be perfect,” said Dr. Emma Raizman, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Medina. “When you have a toddler, he’s not always going to be well-behaved and parents need to take the stress off themselves. The best thing you can do is prepare, bring things to keep him busy and pack snacks.”
She offers advice for parents on how to navigate the holidays and minimize schedule disruptions to prevent any classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas episodes.
Keep kids as close to their routine as possible. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your kids are in bed within 1 hour of their usual bedtime and get up within 1 hour of their usual wake time.
If you’re not going to be at home, arrange with the host to put your kids to bed at their house. That way, you can enjoy your holiday and keep the kids on schedule.
“Parents should be wary of making the holidays a free for all,” warned Dr. Raizman. “Having set rules and boundaries allows toddlers to function within a framework, which comforts them. If parents aren’t enforcing rules and kids are left to make their own framework, it’s above their cognitive ability and stresses them out, leading to tantrums.”
Pack healthy snacks. Just in case the holiday meal is later than your kids’ regular dinnertime, make sure you have something to feed them so they don’t get “hangry.” Plus, it’ll entertain the kids while you’re visiting with family.
Get a nap in. If your child normally takes a nap during the day, try to get it in as close to their normal naptime as possible. If you’re away from home, bring a Pack ‘n’ Play or something familiar to them, such as a blanket or lovey for comfort.
“The big principle here is to try to stick to their regular routine as much as possible, especially during the holidays,” said Dr. Raizman. “The excitement and interacting with people will tire them out more than usual. If you don’t want to deal with the aftermath — your kids getting cranky and irritable — stick to their routine.”
However, if it gets to be too late in the day before you can get him down, nix the nap. You don’t want to interfere with your child falling asleep at night. Instead, put him to bed a little earlier than normal so he can quickly get back to his routine the next day.
Think moderation when it comes to sweets. If kids are too wound up or have an upset tummy from too many sweets and chocolate, which has caffeine in it, it can interfere with their ability to fall asleep at night.
“There is a debate as to whether kids can really get a sugar high, but too much caffeine and sugar can make kids cranky when they come down from it,” said Dr. Raizman. “That can translate to whining and crying and make it difficult for them to fall asleep.”
Allow time to wind down at night, especially if you’re away. Try to keep your kids’ bedtime routine as close to normal as possible. If you brush teeth, read books and sing a song before going to bed, be sure to do that. The routine automatically builds in the winding down time your kids need to settle in for the night.
“This is key at any age. Even adults need winding down time before bed,” said Dr. Raizman. “A bedtime routine keeps things familiar for kids, especially if you’re not sleeping at home, and triggers the hormones in their body to start getting ready for a long night’s rest.”
Build in transition time. If you’re traveling during the holidays, try to allow your child to wake in his own bed the day before his first day back at school.
“It’s like adults. After a vacation, you need a day or 2 to have a vacation from your vacation, especially if you’re traveling across different time zones,” said Dr. Raizman. “Kids need a day or 2 to adjust and get back into the swing of things, as well.”
In addition, parents can prepare their kids for the trip and build in transition time on the front end. For example, if there’s going to be a time change, you can begin to move up their bedtime to adjust their routine a couple days before you go. That way when you arrive, it won’t be such a difficult transition.