We flew to South Africa with my daughter, Trixie, when she was only two years old. I spent weeks asking friends how to get through a twenty hour flight with a toddler. “Wrap presents for her to open, even if it’s stuff she already owns,” one friend told me. “Stock up on sticker books,” said another. And “Snacks, snacks, snacks,” they all agreed. I was excited but skeptical as we flew from New York to London…then crabby and tired as we flew from London to Dakar, Senegal…and by the time we got from Dakar to Johannesburg, South Africa, I was beyond exhausted. My daughter had been a trouper (not to mention, my husband let her watch Beauty and the Beast three times in a row), but we’d barely managed a wink of sleep on the flights. Phase two of the journey was to rent a car and then drive—bleary-eyed and stiff—for four and a half hours through the mountains into Lesotho. Trixie napped in the car, and by the time we arrived, my husband and I felt like extras from The Walking Dead. We kicked off our shoes, ate a few crackers, and then drifted off to sleep…at which point, my daughter woke up—bright eyed and bushy tailed!—at 10:00 p.m. Until 4:00 a.m.
Somehow we survived, but I remember there being a lot of TV that night, and several gruff arguments between my overtired husband and me for several days following. Now my daughter is five and a half and my son is twenty-one months old, and traveling hasn’t gotten any easier. We fly to England at least once a year to visit my in laws, and this last time I was up with them both from 11:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. when we arrived. For the love of god, why couldn’t they just sleep through the night like I wanted to?! But maybe it doesn’t have to be so hard. I spoke with Kira Ryan, founder of Dream Team Baby, and she had some pretty good advice. As she explained, most major jet lag issues occur when children travel west because kids tend to be such naturally early risers. Solving the jet lag issue can be tricky, but there are some legit things you can do before a long flight (and once you’ve arrived) to help your kids cope with wanting lunch when it’s 4:00 p.m. and not being ready for bed until midnight. Here are Ryan’s top five jet lag tips for kids.
- Make it a screen-free flight. That is, if you’re taking an overnight flight and you want them to sleep on the plane. “The blue spectrum light will put children’s bodies into ‘go mode’ instead of prepping them for sleep,” warns Ryan.
- Make the plane a sleep-friendly environment. “Remember to bring your child’s most coveted sleep items from home—a special sleep lovey, a blanket, a travel white noise machine,” says Ryan. “These creature comforts will help children fall asleep.” Older kids can use a boost, too. They may not have a lovey anymore, but an eye mask or a soothing scented lotion (rubbed around the temples) may give them incentive to relax and fall asleep faster.
- Adopt the new time zone. Do not look at your watch or think about what time it is back home. In fact, as soon as you board the plane, reset your watch and phone to the new time zone. Fully embrace your destination immediately. “If you do overnight travel and arrive in the morning, feed your child breakfast even if she isn’t hungry. Then, stick to the normal meal times according to the new time zone.” The point is to re-calibrate your child’s circadian rhythm, and they’ll need plenty of sunlight, fresh air, and food to get there.
- Divide and conquer. Once you’ve accepted the fact that getting your child on a good sleep schedule is going to be difficult, decide who’s going to do what. “Divide the ‘morning shift’ among all willing adults,” suggests Ryan.
- DIY blackout curtains. Many of us have grown to rely on our trusty blackout curtains, but we can’t exactly rip them off the wall and pack them. Ryan suggests bringing along a few black garbage bags and taping them to the windows in order to keep the room dark as long as possible.
Most moms agree that it is crucial to get your brain wrapped around the new time zone as quickly as possible, and maybe even a few days earlier, while you’re still at home. But be prepared for the fact that your first day or two in paradise (or wherever you may be headed) is going to be a little bit tricky. Bon voyage!
Image: Getty/MoMo Productions
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