From something as simple as daylight savings time to something as challenging as international travel, time changes are tough adjustments for most kids.
I often laugh when I struggle to even move my son’s schedule by a one hour time difference. Trying to get kids to sleep when you want is an awesome way to feel totally inept as a human being. It’s not easy, and it’s rarely a simple solution.
I’ve experienced my fair share of kid’s schedule adjustments though. We’ve traveled across time zones both domestically and internationally about 10 times since my son was born 2 years ago. We’ve moved our son’s schedule from a few hours all the way to a complete day/night swap during international travels from the U.S. to Japan.
You learn a lot along the way about helping kids sleep after traveling. Paired with using a printable daily schedule for kids, here are a few things that might make adjusting to time changes easier for your kids:
4 Ways to Help Kids Feel Secure After Traveling
Allow for 24 hours of recovery sleeping.
This means when you initially arrive at your destination, allow your child to sleep when they are tired for as long as needed during the first 24 hours. Most children lose out on a considerable amount of sleep during travels and need a bit of recovery before you can even begin to think about shifting sleep schedules around.
Create a zone of comfort.
Change is hard for kids to understand and can create some anxiety. Help your kids feel secure and confident in the change by showing them where they will sleep. Talk about where they will sleep and that you will be nearby. Bring a few items from home that are very familiar (e.g. blanket, stuffed animal) to help create a zone of comfort.
Consider room sharing.
Room sharing isn’t my personal favorite thing to do, but this is something that offers kids a huge sense of comfort and security. If they know you are in the room, especially after traveling, they are more likely to feel secure enough to allow their bodies to rest.
Consider a prolonged bedtime routine.
Most recently when we traveled from Japan to the US, we started a prolonged bedtime routine to offer our son a little bit more TLC. We often laid down with him in the room to help ease him into sleep. Often times an extra fifteen minutes of snuggling before bedtime was enough to help him feel secure in a new environment.
4 Ways to Help Kids Sleep Stay on Track After Traveling.
Limit naps to normal nap length.
After the first 24 hours of sleep recovery, go ahead and wake your kids up from naps after a normal amount of time. This means if your child normally sleeps 2 hours for an afternoon nap, go ahead and wake him after 2 hours. It is not easy to wake them, especially when you know they are still adjusting and tired, but this is one of the most effect ways to adjust kids to a new time zone.
Wake your kids up in the morning.
Whatever your desired wake up time is for your kids, go ahead and wake them. If your kids normally wake up at 7 am or 8 am, wake them up rather than allowing them to sleep late. This holds true even if your kids were up a bit during the night. Truly, this is one of the most effective ways to adjust kids to a new time zone.
Keep inching closer.
Continue to work your way closer and closer each day to your desired schedule. For some kids, adjustments may take 2-3 days; for other kids, this can take up to 2 weeks’ time. Often an arduous process of switching kids from time zone to time zone, it is possible to adjust kids in a reasonable amount of time if you really make an effort to switch them over.
On our most recent trip from Japan to the US, I used the above method to completely swap my son’s days and nights, and it took about 5 days to get him switched over.
Keep things very low key during night waking.
There were several nights when my son was awake for a few hours and one night where he was awake for 4.5 hour straight. If you experience this, it is completely normal. Keep the lights dim and avoid as much stimulation as possible during a night waking. If neither you nor your child can sleep, read a book or sing songs quietly or do any quiet activity that suits your fancy. The goal is to avoid treating a night waking as a regular daytime activity, which encourages our bodies to wake up and stay awake.
Keep inching your way over to the new time zone and try your best not to allow your kids to sleep the day away. Many will try to do this because their bodies’ melatonin is trying to keep them on the old schedule. So again, the best way to help kids adjust to a new time zone is to really commit to the new schedule and diligently try to switch them over a bit each day.
Want more on parenting?
- One Simple Trick to Help Kids Fall Asleep Fast
- Traveling with Kids? 8 Ways to Save Your Sanity
- What Really Goes Down on an International Flight with a 2-Year-Old
What’s your best tip to help kids sleep after traveling? Let’s chat in the comments.
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