The holidays are a magical time of year. Sleigh bells, family dinners, travel, presents -- and tantrums. Many parents simply accept tantrums as part of the price they must pay for choosing to travel, entertain and otherwise attempting to enjoy themselves. Fortunately, there's one simple solution that can eliminate many of the holiday tantrums, and that's sticking to your child's bedtime routine throughout the season.
Kids who sleep well are better equipped to handle changes, deal with disappointments, and adjust to new people and places. And "the simplest proven solution for helping kids get a better night's sleep is to follow a nightly routine," says Michele Borba, Ed.D, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass 2009).
Follow these tips to maintain your child's bedtime routine no matter where you are.
Incorporate soothing music.
Music can help kids unwind and relax into sleep. Borba suggests offering a choice of selections but letting your child make the final selections. Then load the music on an mp3 player that can go wherever she does.
Create a mental relaxation exercise.
Teach your child a relaxation exercise she can use if she wakes in the middle of the night. Borba suggests that the child try "breathing deeply while focusing on a different body part from head to toe and then releasing tension from each area while exhaling."
Establish rules for relaxing.
Teach your child to be physically active early in the day, to turn off TV and computer screens for at least half an hour before bedtime, and to avoid caffeinated drinks, says Borba. These are rules you can enforce even on the go, and they'll help train your child's body for better sleep.
Focus on actions instead of objects.
To the extent possible, make your routine about the routine itself, rather than about having specific objects. That way, you don't run the risk of forgetting a treasured toy at home -- or worse, losing it at Aunt May's.
Don't give in to peer pressure.
When you're visiting friends and relatives, you'll be pressured to relax your rules and let the kids stay up "just this once." Resist this urge. You might make a few people happy in the short term, but you're setting up your child -- and yourself -- for misery down the line. If you have a bedtime routine that works and keeps your kid in good spirits, stick with it no matter what.
Use positive language.
Borba recommends that parents "create positive associations with bedtime that your child will look forward to. 'It's time to snuggle up with a book… Let's cuddle a minute together before we turn out the lights.'"
Take the time now to establish a smooth bedtime routine, and keep it up over the holidays. You'll be glad you did when you find yourself sailing through the season in high spirits.
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