Dealing With Jet Lag For a Toddler

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In a few months, we’ll be heading to Indonesia for a family vacation. As we’re gearing up for our next overseas trip, one of the things that comes to mind is how we’re going to deal with jet lag for a toddler.

As adults, we deal with jet lag in a variety of ways, from sleep deprivation to self-medication. But for toddlers, it’s a completely different issue. How do you help a toddler, who still has yet to understand the concept of time, adjust his or her own sleep schedule? How do we avoid sleepless nights and cranky kids during the day? Is there a secret remedy for dealing with jet lag for a toddler? The answer to all of these is, it all depends.

A toddler in a stroller, asleep at the airport dealing with jet lag for a toddler
My daughter taking a nap at the airport (August 2012)

Dealing with jet lag for a toddler

During our last Asia trip, our daughter was only a year and a half old. It took her a good three nights to adjust to the time zone. Our first night was painful. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight, and due to sheer exhaustion, we were able to go to sleep relatively easily. But right around 4 am, my daughter woke up and would not go back to sleep. I ended up resorting to the iPad, and let her watch Elmo while I tried to get some rest.

The same thing happened the next night, as well as the night after that. By this time, we were staying in Hotel Galilee in Bustos, Philippines. My husband and stepson had both adjusted to the time zone, which was a good 15 hours ahead of Seattle, and were sleeping soundly in their beds. Meanwhile, my daughter and I were both wide awake at 4 am, bored with iPad watching and tired of being in a stuffy hotel room. Since it was still two hours before sunrise, I thought we might be able to buy some time walking around the hotel.

The halls of the hotel were silent and dark. It seemed like we were the only guests there. Walking through the darkened halls, we came across a spooky looking courtyard and an empty workout room. I tried to remain playful with my daughter, even though underneath I was a little creeped out by how eerie and still the hotel was in the hours before dawn. There was not even a person sitting at the front desk. Fortunately, by dawn, everything that looked menacing in the darkness had turned back to their ordinary daytime form.

Swimming pool at Hotel Galilee (July 2012)

Preparing for jet lag

As we’re making plans for this upcoming Asia trip, I am reminded of that night battling jet lag. This time around, we’ll have to deal with our two year old son, who will be dealing with his very first case of jet lag for a toddler.

Parenting experts have a variety of contradicting advice regarding jet lag. Some experts recommend only picking flights that arrive in the evening so that you’re tired and ready for bed. Others recommend picking flights that arrive in the morning so that your body has a chance to naturally adjust to the sun schedule. And yet others recommend starting before your flight, adjusting your kids’ sleep schedule to your destination’s time zone days, or weeks, before your trip.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore (July 2012)

From my experience, it really just depends on your kid and the situation. The key to parenting while traveling is flexibility. You need to be flexible enough, in your travel itinerary, schedule, and frame of mind, to be able to accommodate for some nights of lack of sleep. Because undoubtedly, this is going to happen, no matter what method or remedy you try. But the good news is, your kids will eventually adjust to the time zone. Their bodies have their own ways of battling jet lag.

So rather than stressing on whether your kids will adjust to the time zone or not, use that energy to focus on other parts of your travel planning. In the end, everyone, no matter what age, figures out their own way of battling jet lag. The best thing you can do right now is to help your kids enjoy the ride.

Have you had to deal with jet lag for a toddler? Share your experience in the comments.

Dealing With Jet Lag For A Toddler | The Wandering Daughter

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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