Between recitals, traditions, and parties – Christmas schedules can turn your toddler’s routine upside down!
For a lot of moms, there’s pressure to make everything perfect, memorable, and MAGICAL.
And as if parenting a toddler wasn’t challenging enough, this time of year brings extra concerns like how are we going to schedule a nap while traveling across the country or deal with dinner hours after children are accustomed to eating.
This begs the question… should you relax a child’s schedule during the holiday season??
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Jo says, “Just Flow with Christmas Schedules!”
Holidays are a time to be relaxed and spend fun times with family and friends, so I don’t believe you have to be super strict with your child’s schedule.
Of course you need to plan out your day ahead of time, but overthinking the timeline and trying to coordinate it with a toddler’s normal activities can cause a lot of stress. That’s not a very merry way to spend the holiday season!
Sure, toddlers love structure – we all do. However toddlers are better at adjusting to new things than most of us give them credit for.
Remember they’re learning so much at this stage, and they take a lot of cues from their surroundings.
Therefore if you’re at a party that’s during their nap time, it’s likely they’ll want to stay awake too and enjoy the festivities.
If they see people eating, that will signal that it’s time to eat – even if their little internal clock isn’t telling them it’s lunch time yet.
It’s fun to see toddlers having fun and enjoying the holidays, so the best thing you can do during activities is try to relax and hope your children follow your lead. If you stress and try to rush them out for nap time, they’ll sense your fear and everyone will be miserable.
Toddlers can be absolutely unpredictable with Christmas schedules.
Remember that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”.
Meaning, if you plan everything perfectly (11:30am – get in car, 12:00pm – snack time, 12:30pm – toddler naps, 1:30pm – arrive at Grandma’s) I am telling you something WILL go wrong and blow up in your face.
You’ve got to keep your expectations low. Of course, you should always be aware of the what time it is, and be prepared with snacks and/or a sleeping surface should they be required.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can force your child to go to bed just because it’s 7:30pm with people singing Christmas carols in your living room.
Here are some key ways that I stay prepared (and therefore relaxed!) while doing different holiday functions:
- Varying range of snacks – Of course there are the classics like cheerios, raisins, and such, but sometimes you need something more substantial. I always keep a packet or two of the Plum Organics Mighty 4 in varying flavors. I find the protein and the grains fills them up a little more substantially if we’re delaying a meal by over an hour.
- Sleeping location – I don’t generally lug my pack n’ play around for day trips, but I do always make sure I have two things – a toddler carrier and a stroller. My toddler won’t often say he’s “tired” but he will ask to be held, and that’s usually my cue he’s getting sleepy. If we’re at a function, I’ll hold him a little but then I’ll let him ride on my back in a carrier designed for toddlers like this. If we’re out, then I’ll put him in the stroller and push him around. I love my citi mini stroller because once they fall asleep I can lay them all the way back. Bonus, it also comes in super handy for diaper changes since it lays flat. Usually after a few minutes in either of these, he’s passed out.
- Activities – I always carry small “busy items” with me in my purse. These include things like a very simple truck, sticker book, crayons, etc. To make it even easier, I wrote an entire article about the best busy toys for young children.
- Pajamas – In case we’re out later, I always have extra diapers and PJs on hand. That way we can get them ready for bed and when they fall asleep in the car transfer them effortlessly to their beds.
**To be clear, I don’t use these items to try and recreate my toddler’s schedule. I just like to have these items on hand if the situation arises where they are required. For instance, if my child complains he’s hungry. Mostly I try to keep him on schedule with the rest of the family.
The fact is, holiday parties and gatherings will disrupt their schedule.
If you expect this from the get-go, you’ll have a lot less stress during this season.
It’s only for a day or two, they’ll bounce back I promise. Plus, the more you take them out of their comfort zones the better they’ll do the next time!
Rachel asks, “Do you
ever have a problem
getting your toddler
back on schedule afterward?”
After one day of a disrupted schedule? Not really.
Sometimes they’ll sleep in the morning after a busy day, sometimes they won’t and might be a little cranky waking up.
I’ve never had any fussiness last more than an hour the next day, and they go to bed the usual time that night. Honestly, I have more issues adjusting the kids to Daylight Savings Time.
Rachel says, “Stick to Your Routine!”
I’m willing to be flexible on a lot around the holidays (like Christmas treats!), but NOT on the schedule.
It is easy for the season to feel hectic and crazy with parties, events, and family gatherings. It can be tons of fun until you end up with a hungry, tired toddler… that is not fun for anyone.
Perhaps some kids are more easygoing, but mine does much better in any situation if he eats and sleeps on his schedule.
Respect the nap.
Most toddlers still need a nap. If yours is anything like mine, skipping the nap means tantrums and meltdowns all afternoon.
Traveling and visitors are hard on schedules so make a plan. Will they sleep in the car on the way? Can you bring a pack n’ play to your aunt’s house? Will your friends meet up early or late for lunch?
The same applies to all sleep, really.
Stick to bedtime, since your little one will almost definitely wake up at their usual time.
It is easy to overlook how and when you’ll fit in naptime and bedtime over busy holidays, but a tired toddler is not exactly the life of the party.
A hungry toddler is also something I prefer to avoid.
Coordinating multiple schedules can mean meals are not going to be served at your toddler’s usual times. Often my family eats dinner much later than my toddler does.
People without small children forget how hangry these little ones get. What if the restaurant wait lasts forever or your cousin put the turkey in late?
All I can say is bring snacks, lots and lots of snacks.
If I know ahead of time that dinner will be too late, I bring an alternate meal for my toddler. Making sure that your kid eats when they normally do can help prevent public meltdowns.
While it is fun to get caught up in the holidays eventually they’re over and we all go back to real life.
While I was working full time, I refused to budge at all on schedule.
We visited family for a couple days, but after that we had to be up early and back to work and daycare.
It wasn’t worth it to get off schedule for a bit more fun, just to make my life more difficult afterward getting back on schedule. What could be destroyed in a day or two could take weeks to get back on track.
Christmas schedules are hard on a toddler’s routine. Doing your best to keep them as close to their normal schedule as possible can save you some frustration.
You can’t expect a hungry and overtired kid to be on their best behavior. They almost certainly won’t. I prefer to avoid bringing the party to a halt with an explosive toddler scene, if possible.
Jo asks, “Do you find
that you miss out on
some things around
the holidays trying
to stick to the schedule?”
While it is usually pretty easy to keep up with snacks at at events, it is so hard to get a toddler to sleep with if they can hear the festivities.
I try to recreate his normal sleep routine and bring his sound machine to drown out party noises, but it can take some time to get him to sleep. My family has been really helpful though, letting us set up a pack n’ play in an extra room, but we’ve also left parties early on occasion.
Either way, I’ve missed some of the party, but it is worth it to me. I’d rather take time away getting him to sleep than have to be completely preoccupied by a tantrum.
So to all the stressed-out holiday mamas out there – remember to do what you feel comfortable with regarding your schedule. Celebrate how your family sees fit!
Check out our other holiday-themed debates on the Toddler Christmas Presents Controversy and If You Should Bother Decorating With a Toddler In the House.