Before venturing on my first flight with my 2 1/2-year-old son, I had a lot of concerns. My overactive brain thought about every problem that could likely occur . . . except for the one that actually did. Sure, having a toddler scream and kick on a plane would have been awful, but having him struggle through the time change was worse. Instead of this hurdle being over in a few short hours, it lasted days.
Two hours to an adult really isn't a big deal, but to a highly regimented toddler, it was something that, in hindsight, I shouldn't have underestimated. For days he was taking naps at the wrong time and for the wrong length, eating at odd hours, and waking far too early. All of these little changes made for a grumpy, exhausted, and overstimulated child. This, of course, meant I was also all of those things.
Sure, eventually he acclimated, but not without some strong compromises. A lot of time was wasted on our vacation because of missteps along the way. Knowing what I know now, there are some things I will be more mindful of in the future and one thing we did right.
- Heading east is not the same as heading west. On a previous road trip to New York, we didn't concern ourselves too much with the time change since he was going to be expected to stay up later than usual. However, for a child who has a strict schedule, staying up two hours later was huge. Be aware that you're asking a lot from them, and there will be an adjustment period.
- Be outside and active as much as possible. Since their rhythm is going to be off, it's best to get them exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Let them see that it's daylight and that life continues as normal, just in a new place. Additionally, keep them as active as possible so that they're not aware of how tired they are.
- Make car trips short. My son loves to nap in his car seat, and while that was great on the plane, it made getting him adjusted to the time change difficult. We'd get in the car to go to the children's museum and he'd fall asleep by the time we got there, thus ruining his naps.
- Bring snacks, but keep meal times consistent. He was ready for lunch at 10 a.m., despite having just eaten an impressively large breakfast. By trying to feed him his meals when he was hungry, I kept resetting his natural clock. Instead of trying to accommodate his insatiable appetite, I should have given him snacks to keep the hunger at bay and then focused on a proper lunch at a regular time.
- Be flexible, and think incrementally. My son's usual bedtime is 7:30 p.m., meaning that on our trip to the West Coast, he was going to want to sleep around 5:30 p.m. Since this would mean getting up at 5 a.m., which I obviously didn't want to do, I had to work his schedule incrementally. While I would have loved for him to go to bed at his normal time, this would have made for an overtired toddler. We compromised in the middle, and he was passed out around 6:30 p.m. In a couple days, we were able to move his bedtime back to his normal schedule. This was one way we were successful in dealing with the time change. When we travel again, I'll be sure to implement this strategy.