Young children are creatures of habit. They love routine and want everything to be predictable.
Anything from a party that run past (or right up to) bedtime, to a holiday, to traveling can disrupt a kid’s routine and throw them into a tailspin. And kids that are out of sorts are much more likely to have temper tantrums and meltdowns – something we’d all like to avoid.
While we can’t (and don’t want to) avoid all those schedule interruptions, there are some things we can do to help our kids handle them better, making it much more enjoyable for mom and dad in the process.
Give them a heads up. Unless the event is a surprise, start preparing your child well in advance. I like to give my daughter a week’s notice for things like parties, and 2 weeks for bigger things, like traveling. This way she understands what’s going on, why our routine may be different, and it helps build a sense of excitement.
Let them help. They can pick their attire, especially if it’s a fancy occasion, like a wedding, or help you pack up their stuff if you’re traveling. Kids can help make something to bring to a party like a dish to share or a craft for a hostess gift. If you’re going on a road trip let your kids think up some activities to do in the car. By getting involved they feel like they own a little piece of this event, and it can even help break the ice for shy children because they love to tell everyone they made the brownies or picked their pretty dress!
One step at a time. Kids like things to be predictable, right? “We’re going on a trip,” may be exciting for adults who know what a trip entails, but to a kid you’re basically asking them to get excited about leaving everything they’ve ever known. Lay out all the steps in terms they can understand; “First we’re going to take an airplane to Nana’s house. We’re going to stay in a hotel and go to a big party for your cousin and her new husband. Then we’re going to take another airplane home.” As you go, remember to let them know what’s next; “After the wedding we’re going to take some pictures before we go to a biiiiiiiiig party.”
Plan in some breaks. Almost everyone gets overwhelmed when life gets too go-go-go, and kids are no exception. They need some space to process all the new stuff they’re experiencing, and depending on what’s going on, they may need some time and space to let out some of their energy. Going for a walk, finding a park, or going in another room and cuddling for a bit can give an antsy child the break they need to make it through the rest of your event.
While we’re talking about breaks, don’t forget to plan some breaks for yourself! Make sure that you and your partner are sharing the responsibility of looking after your kids. Switch off every hour or so so that both of you can enjoy yourselves and the kids are always looked after. Grab a family member or friend to watch them for a couple minutes, too, if you want a couple minutes together. Just remember that someone should be looking after your kids at all times. Don’t assume that someone’s watching just because there are lots of people.
Sleep is key. What makes an out-of-sorts child even worse? Being tired. What makes children have a hard time sleeping? Being out of sorts. It’s a vicious cycle. No matter where you are, stick to your sleep routine. It will help your child feel safe and comfortable, and it will help them wind down after a big day. If you’re traveling try to make wherever you’re staying as homey as possible. Nothing makes sleep easier than a little piece of home.
Roll with the punches. Sometimes you can do everything right and your child still has a meltdown. When you’re traveling or in a room full of family or friends, you can feel some added pressure to get your little one under control quickly. Throw in some “helpful” comments from onlookers and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Just remember that every parent around you totally understands and knows you’re doing your best. If possible, find a quiet place – even a toilet stall will do – and help your child through their meltdown. If private is a dirty word with your family, just go off in a corner for a bit.
Big events and travel can be tough for kids. The sights, sounds, and activity can be overwhelming, but a little preparation goes a long way.