Everyone is afraid of a tired toddler. They want the cracker, they don’t want the cracker. The more tired they are, the louder they cry. It’s miserable when you go through the trouble and money to plan a fun trip or outing only to have it sabotaged by a screaming over-tired toddler.
Here’s my disclaimer: I am by no means a sleep expert – but I am 3 for 3 on kids who can nap on the fly. My kids can nap anywhere – the car, Walt Disney World, an airplane, in different time zones, the airport, a water park, a nature hike – if we’ve been there – my kids have slept there. I’ve been intentional about sleep since day 1 and so I’ve compiled my top 5 tips for training your baby to be a good napper.
Teach them how to go to sleep. I know what you are thinking, doesn’t everyone go to sleep when they get tired enough? Nope, not true! Knowing how to lie down, become drowsy, and put yourself to sleep on your own is actually a learned skill! My twins were sleeping through the night (8p-6am) by 10 weeks so I am pro sleep-training from infancy. And while I could write a whole blog post on this one subject, here’s the most important part for flexible sleepers. Teach them to fall asleep on their own. Probably the hardest habit to break is to not let them fall asleep eating (breast or bottle). I followed the eat-wake-sleep model. I encouraged them to stay awake through the feeding and after, even if it was just 15 minutes so that they would be awake when I laid them down to sleep. This allowed them to learn how to put themselves to sleep. If your child needs to be rocked/fed/held in order to go to sleep don’t fool yourself by thinking you can break that habit on a vacation.
Our naptime and bedtime routines are the same. I lay them down, cover them with kisses, give them their sleeping blankets (special ones that are almost exclusively for sleeping), and say the same phrase, “Go night-night.” Their bodies know just what to do. So even when our environment changes, their habits don’t.
Change locations on them often. Have them sleep everywhere. In their crib, in the car seat, in the swing, in your arms, on the couch, in their carriers, and most importantly in the stroller – but we will get to that one later. If your child only knows how to sleep in their crib, don’t be surprised when they won’t sleep at the hotel or on the go. Every new surface and noise becomes a new stimulant. Let them get used to sleeping with different noises and sounds.
Keep your schedule. My kids go down for their nap between 1pm and 2pm every day. Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part, I keep it the same. The location may change, but the schedule/routine doesn’t. My kids’ body clocks are ready to go to sleep around 1. So no matter where we are, their little bodies are ready to sleep.
I have been known to stretch naptime later in the day if I know we will be up really late, but here’s a fatal mistake, (feel free to learn from my failures). There’s a fine line between a very tired baby and an over-tired baby. Over-tired babies will resist sleep in the most unpleasant of ways. Once we had an almost 4pm (4hr) flight, with a connecting flight, and then a long drive home. I thought it would be a good idea to push naps till take-off so they would sleep for a chunk of the long flight and be ready to face the long journey home. But Chase was actually too tired to sleep! He cried for the first hour+ of the flight before he finally passed out. Miserable baby. Miserable mama. Miserable flight.
Pick a good stroller. I have the double CitySelect stroller. I love that the seats can lay completely down and the sunshade can almost completely close them in which makes for the perfect little sleeping cocoon. They’ve been sleeping in their stroller since they were infants and are quite comfortable with their set up. I choose to travel with my stroller instead of rent one on location because my kids are used to sleeping in it. It can be a pain to lug it everywhere because my stroller is a bit cumbersome but why mess with a good thing? If you don’t have a stroller that can lay flat and block out some of the distractions, I’d suggest in an upgrade. Worth every penny.
Lower your expectations. There are times when my kids don’t get a full nap in. They are children, not robots after all. I know this can result in a more challenging evening. We typically try to schedule our most important activities in the morning in case nap time hits a roadblock. Visiting Mickey Mouse at nap time or in the evening after a missed nap will not result in your desired Christmas card picture. I’d re-think my dinner location, my bedtime plan, and my evening activities on days where our sleeping habits are broken. My goal is to set my children up for success; a tired baby in a quiet fancy full-service restaurant is headed for disaster, and that’s not fair to them. Don’t ask more than they can give. Instead, switch it up for an early dinner on a restaurant patio where they can make noise and don’t have to sit still.
I’ve been the one with the screaming over-tired toddler and I’ve been the one with the well-rested tot whose full of wiggles and giggles, and I prefer the latter.