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Visitors and Visiting with Babies and Toddlers: The Sleep Edition

visitors; traveling with a baby or toddler; keeping sleep on track with visitors

With spring upon us and summer fast approaching, many parents are looking forward to traveling to see friends and family. Others can’t wait to host visitors at their own houses. If there is one thing COVID-19 taught us it’s how truly precious it is to see those we love in person. There’s nothing like holding your best friend’s new baby or seeing your toddler run to hug Grandma and Grandpa.

When it comes to sleeping though, the fun often doesn’t last. While you were sleep training, friends and family were eager to share all their sleep tips with you. It will certainly seem like everyone is just as comfortable weighing in on your child’s sleep habits now.

From “Isn’t it too early to put him to bed,” to “I don’t think it’s the end of the world if she skips her nap today, is it?” to “Babies this age really still need their morning nap,” you are bound to hear all sorts of tips, hints, and questions. Whether you want to or not.

While the advice is often well-intentioned, it can still be hard to deal with. Especially if you’ve put in a lot of effort to establish good sleep habits for your child. It can be frustrating knowing that Grandma can, without meaning to, ruin all your hard work by choosing to rock your baby to sleep instead of letting him do it all by himself. That can make you want to rescind your invitation quicker than you can say “hello.”

Don’t let the fear of disrupting your child’s sleep schedule and independent sleep habits keep you from enjoying time with your loved ones. Read below to find all my recommendations for how to keep your baby and toddler’s sleep on track during this time.

Visiting Someone Else’s House

Staying at a friend’s house while visiting another city or state is one of the best ways to travel. It does come with its own challenges vs. staying in a hotel. However, with some thoughtful planning and strong communication, you will be on your way to a great vacation in no time.

What to say

Clear communication with those you are visiting is key for a peaceful and happy time during your vacation. Don’t wait to talk about your child’s sleep until after you are there. Instead, discuss this along with any other necessary details, before you arrive. 

Always be gracious when visiting someone. Ask them about their schedules first before talking about yours. You may find that your schedules match in certain ways, especially if they have children of a similar age. Try to figure out how to fit your schedule into theirs, and into their plans for your visit while still sticking to your priorities. 

Explain the “why” behind your sleep schedule and bedtime routine. Those you are visiting might not know about your child’s sleep struggles or how hard you have worked to overcome these. Explaining that your little Jake turns into a pumpkin at 7:31 pm will help you once you arrive for your visit. Then you can gently remind your family or friends what you already talked about and why it’s important to you without having to start a long and potentially fraught conversation.

What to do

Make it easy for your host to accommodate your schedule. Find out ahead of time what they have planned and how you can work around it to still have fun and spend time together.

If your host plans a special outing that interferes with a nap or will get your child to sleep late, consider your options. You can stick to your guns (and you might have to, depending on your child). You might be able to find a compromise. For example, you can join them for a part of the outing and return to the house in time for a nap. Or you might have to let it go this once and get back on track tomorrow.

Whatever you choose to do, decide what it is, and do not feel guilty about doing it. That will sap the fun from your visit. Which is definitely not worth it.

What to bring

When traveling with children it’s critical to create a sleeping environment and schedule that closely mirrors what you have at home. Carefully consider what you need to bring to make that happen.

Many parents bring bedding and comfort items so that their baby or toddler can feel comfortable and fall asleep easier. If your child uses a specific sleep sack, book, or lovey (for toddlers) make sure you don’t forget those. Consider also bringing any white noise machines or sleep clocks that you use.

Bringing a Pack ‘n Play can make it a lot easier to put your child to sleep. It is portable, so you can set it up wherever there is space. You can also put a SlumberPod around it to create a completely dark environment (use my code to get $20 off: TENDERTRANSITIONSSLEEP$20). The darker and quieter your child’s sleeping space, the better they will sleep. Read here about how darkness helps your baby and toddler sleep better.

Remember, the more similar you make the sleeping environment to the one at home, the better your child will sleep and the fewer challenges you will have once you return.

Visitors in Your House

When hosting people at your house you want to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome. That often means entertaining later in the evening or being out during the day to show them your favorite spots. All of this can create a lot of challenges for your child’s sleep.

What to say 

When arranging the trip, make sure you clearly explain any considerations that involve your baby’s or toddler’s sleep schedule. Worried it may come off as rude? Think about it this way: If your child had a peanut allergy you would let visitors know ahead of time not to bring peanuts into your home. Right? So do yourself a favor and have the same conversation about your child’s sleep habits ahead of time. Do not wait until people arrive to discuss this – it might feel like an ambush. 

You can say something like: “Sarah is a very sensitive sleeper and we have been working hard on her sleep schedule for the past few months. We have noticed that if she misses her nap or goes to bed too late it can really impact her mood. So that is something we as a family prioritize over many other things.” 

Explain to your friends and family how this will affect them during the trip. For example, while you will be able to show them around, you might not all be able to join them for an all-day excursion since someone will have to go home to let Sarah nap. Let them know what you CAN and CANNOT do clearly and kindly. 

What to do

Make sure you are following all your regular routines, especially your nap schedule and bedtime routine. 

You might be able to involve your visitors in your bedtime routine, especially if there are adults only or it’s grandparents that would like to take part. 

On the other hand, if your visitors come with their own older children who go to bed later and are creating a very amped-up environment you will need to give your child time in a separate and less stimulating space to wind down. 

You can shorten each part of the routine by a few minutes as long as you still complete all the steps. Remember, a bedtime routine is like a bat signal for your child that it’s time to go to sleep. So don’t skip any steps or mix up the order to accommodate visitors. You will probably pay for it with less sleep.

Don’t Forget

It can feel hard to tell your mother-in-law or best friend that you need to get your toddler into bed at 7:13 pm sharp when they would like to do just one more round of Twister. 

Remember what it felt like to have a child that woke up multiple times per night. Remember what it was like to feel like a zombie each morning. Remember why you are doing this. For your child, for you, for your family. You got this. 

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