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Overcoming Sugar Highs and Unsolicited Parenting Advice: How to Set Yourself Up for Success This Holiday Season

Talk to the mom of a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, or even a kindergartener, and within five minutes you will know at least two things about her child—how her child is sleeping and how he/she is eating. Talk to that mom for another five minutes, and you’ll learn that her in-laws are constantly giving her kids candy, her own parents insist that she is too rigid with naps and bedtime, her free-spirited (i.e., childless) sister thinks homeschooling is the best option, and her brother-in-law loves to come over unannounced but refuses to be quiet during nap time. You might not realize it, but all this joy will be delivered to you just in time for the holidays—minus the shimmering snowflake gift wrap and coordinating bow!

So, what should you do?

For starters, set yourself up for success! Here are my top three suggestions:

  1. Keep your child well fed all day. This means not necessarily waiting for set family meal times, but instead letting your little one fuel up throughout the day. Large family gatherings are not conducive to your child having a great meal. New foods, lots of people, strange meal times, and loads of distractions keep kids from focusing on eating—never mind that most of the foods are unfamiliar.

My three-and-a-half-year-old ate a bag of pretzels and cheese in the car on the way to our massive Thanksgiving dinner. As soon as she got there, she was running around with her cousins. When it was time to eat (an hour-and-a-half after her typical mealtime), she was too excited to sit still, so she munched on a slice of turkey and some green beans and powered through!

2. Remember that, like eating, sleeping is tough to do when in unfamiliar places, at unusual times, or with additional stimuli around. Beforehand, try to establish a solid bedtime routine including props that can easily travel with you. A sound machine is always a good idea—because it drowns out noise and because the nightly repetition of the sound will make an unfamiliar room sound familiar. Blankets, “loveys,” and your child’s favorite bedtime books, songs, and pajamas will all help to make any room feel more comfy and conducive to sleep.

3. Make sure that you and your partner are on the same page! Discuss things ahead of time, and decide together that you are both on board with letting your little one snack throughout the day, for example, or that you’ll both throw caution to the wind and not worry about “spoiling a meal”—no matter what your extended family has to say about it! Decide your child’s bedtime in advance. Do you want to keep it at the usual time no matter what’s going on? Do you agree to let your little one stay up late but only until 9 p.m.? Do you both want to handle bedtime duties, meaning both of you must miss out on holiday time with family, or do you want to alternate each night? Decide these things ahead of time, and don’t let conflict with your partner become another source of holiday stress!

Since it’s the holidays, and I’m in the spirit of giving, here’s one more tip:

4. Remember, the holidays will end, and life will soon go back to normal! This means that snacking all day and going to bed late are not your child’s new norm—they are simply a very brief aberration. And so, yes, your little one will be on a sugar high and will sleep poorly for a few days, and he/she may even continue sleeping poorly for a few days after the holidays. But once you are home and back in your routine, your child will fall back in line, too. Meals will be balanced again, bedtimes will return to normal, and your meticulously planned routines will run the show again. So, enjoy! Don’t stress; just let it happen. Allow your little one and yourself to indulge in a few days of mania but also, ultimately, of fun!

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